By Mary O’KEEFE
“I feel guilty if I smile.”
That is how Susan Park has felt for 44 days. That is how long her daughter Elaine has been missing. Her normal routine has changed; now every morning she wakes up and her first thought is of Elaine and that maybe this will be the day she hears the news that her daughter has been found.
This mom who until 40 some days ago did not follow Facebook is now checking it all the time, fearing that if she does not she will miss a clue, a comment – anything that will help bring her daughter home.
Elaine is 20 years old and a Crescenta Valley High School graduate. The last time her mom saw her was Jan. 26.
“She was lying on the sofa,” said Susan.
Elaine went into her bedroom and that was the last time her mother saw her. When Susan checked her room later that day she saw that Elaine had packed a duffle bag and her makeup, something she often did when she planned to stay with friends.
On Friday, Jan. 27, Elaine and her mother spoke via text. The last time Susan texted her daughter and received a response was 9 p.m. that night.
“On Jan. 28 I texted her; no response. I called her phone and it would shut off after two rings,” Susan said.
She felt that twinge of panic that most parents do when they can’t reach their child, but Elaine is 20 and had done this before. Susan was concerned but not worried. Then on Sunday Elaine’s phone still appeared to be off. Susan tried to call her all day on Sunday and on Monday she contacted the Glendale Police Dept. to file a missing person’s report.
“They said it would be a voluntary missing person,” Susan said.
“Normally when a person is [reported missing] and there is a lack of evidence of [foul play], it is [classified] as a voluntary missing person,” said Officer Robert William, GPD spokesman.
The distinction can change if the missing person might be a danger to him or herself, like a person with Alzheimer’s.
A GPD officer came to Susan’s home and took the report and told her GPD would enter the information into a database. Susan and her friends began to investigate. She contacted Elaine’s friends to see if they had heard from her, but they had not.
Until then Susan had not been a Facebook user but she went on it and tried to contact Elaine via her social media accounts, and she emailed her.
“No response,” she said.
She got the phone records from the cellphone service and found the phone number of the boy Elaine had been seeing on and off. She found out, from the boyfriend, that her daughter had been at his house but had left early Friday morning.
“He said she had some kind of panic attack,” Susan said. “He said he tried to stop her.”
Susan and a friend retraced her daughter’s steps but found nothing.
In the meantime the Glendale police continued their investigation.
“When a person is reported missing we do a data analysis. We look to see if they have used their passports, opened any new credit cards … We do a credit history check,” William said.
Surveillance footage was found that showed Elaine leaving the boyfriend’s home and her vehicle being driven away.
“We see her walking out of the house but we can’t tell if that is her in the car,” Susan said.
“The vehicle was found (on Feb. 2). Our detectives were pinging [tracking the phone’s signal]; it didn’t have a ping pattern but from the time she was reported missing we were pinging it and finally located the vehicle,” William said.
The car’s location was Pacific Coast Highway near the intersection of Corral Canyon. The keys were still in the ignition and Elaine’s personal items, including her iPhone, were in the vehicle.
The Glendale police reclassified the report as an involuntary missing person and transported the vehicle that night to their forensic department.
“We forensically processed the vehicle and did not find any evidence of foul play or [of a] struggle regarding the car,” William said. “When we check cars we are looking for any evidence of [foul play], not just blood.”
He added that investigation would include any DNA that appeared to be suspicious, from someone who would not naturally have been in her car; however, in this case, they found nothing.
There have been searches by GPD, Malibu Search and Rescue and Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station. There have been bloodhounds, cadaver dogs searching the area and divers searching as well and still nothing has been found. And that is what is haunting Susan. There is no trace of what happened to her daughter.
Different scenarios run through her head, from kidnapping to getting lost and falling from a cliff.
“Her car’s battery wasn’t good. Maybe someone saw her break down and they took her,” Susan said.
She wonders why all of her daughter’s personal items were still in the car, and how long the car was sitting at the location. The questions mount as the answers become scarce. Susan has criticized the police for not communicating with her and wonders if they are doing everything they can.
William assures that the investigation is continuing.
Susan keeps her phone close and grabs it quickly every time she hears a notification. She is afraid to let her guard down even for a moment in fear of missing a clue. She has reached out to the Korean communities and to her neighborhood community and has found unexpected comfort.
“So many people have helped and offered to help,” she said.
One local woman contacted her and helped her set up a GoFundMe page and helped her with a social media campaign. On Saturday, March 18 from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. a fundraiser will be held for Elaine hosted by some moms who remember Elaine from when she attended Valley View Elementary. Handmade jewelry will be sold and the organizers are asking for items, including gently used clothing, that can be placed in a community yard sale for that day. All the proceeds will go to help in the effort to find Elaine.
It is the community support and the support of friends that has sustained Susan but, at the end of the day, she is left to contemplate all of her “what ifs” and to wait for that call that tells her Elaine has been found.
GPD and Elaine’s family are asking for anyone with information to please contact the Glendale Police Dept. at (818) 548-4911.
Saturday’s Fundraiser is from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 3316 Paraiso Way. To make a financial donation to Go Fund Me, visit https://www.gofundme.com and type Elaine Park in the search bar.