A "warm, bubbly, mission-minded girl" is how a family member described a missing 19-year-old, believed to have been abducted May 24 from an apartment complex in Corvallis, Ore.
Brooke Wilberger, a BYU student who had just completed her freshman year, is the focus of a nationwide search that has seen upwards of 2,500 volunteers turning out to search thousands of square miles in Corvallis and surrounding areas in Benton County. The search for the young woman, who was working at the Corvallis complex managed by her sister and brother-in-law, has been covered in national news, including an appearance by her parents, Greg and Cammy Wilberger, on NBC's "Today Show."
"It's been incredible," said Zak Hansen, Brooke's brother-in-law, in speaking about the deluge of volunteers. "Someone from the news media a few days ago asked us about hope. I made the comment, 'Hope comes from 500 people out there searching for your sister-in-law.' When you see hundreds of people supporting us, you can't help but gain a sense of hope."
Brother Hansen, who is acting as family spokesman to the media and who spoke with the Church News on the telephone, said despite the grief and concern for Brooke, the family and her parents especially are "doing well. We as a family just did a session in the temple and that brought renewed strength and hope."
The young woman, who is registered in pre-elementary education but has been recently studying speech pathology, was last seen Monday morning, May 24, by her sister, Stephani Hansen, cleaning light bulb covers in the parking lot of the apartment complex the Hansens manage. News reports say her purse, keys, cell phone and car were left behind. Her flip-flops were found in the parking lot.
According to Don Hale, assistant to the high priests group leader in the Corvallis 1st Ward where the Hansens live, by late afternoon a home teaching phone tree was initialized and members began volunteering to search.
"We had just tested a stake ham radio alert program the first part of April," Brother Hale said, adding that since Brooke was just past the age for the instant alert system activated when children are missing, known as the Amber Alert, they decided to "create our own Amber Alert."
By that evening, Brooke's picture was posted on a Web site and ham radio alerts were running "up and down the valley."
With emotion, Brother Hale said by that evening, people LDS as well as others began arriving "in waves" to a nearby stadium, and by 11 p.m., some 300 volunteers were searching the area and continued throughout the night. "They just kept coming. One wave would leave and another (would arrive). It was amazing. They went through blackberry bushes four or five feet high. Bless their hearts. You don't do that unless you love somebody."
A search center has been set up at the Corvallis stake center, where members from the six wards in the Corvallis Oregon Stake take turns one ward at a time for three days staffing the center. An organizational chart set up under the direction of the bishopric, with the help of the Relief Society, includes provisions for media, volunteer information, donations, search and rescue, phone hot lines, and food for volunteers.
"We've printed just under 50,000 fliers," said Dale Romrell, stake coordinator for the Find Brooke Committee. On Memorial Day, May 31, Brother Romrell reported, some 425 volunteers, with about 160 in cars driving slowly along roads throughout the county, searched for Brooke. The Corvallis Gazette-Times reported June 1 that volunteers had thus far searched more than 4,000 acres.
On the evening of Memorial Day, a prayer service sponsored by local Church leaders for Brooke at the Benton County Courthouse drew some 500 people of many faiths.
Brother Romrell added that each day, hundreds volunteer in the continued search. He said it started out about 80 percent Church members, and is now only 20 percent Church members.
That's a fact not lost on Zak Hansen and the family of Brooke Wilberger. He emphasized the family believes in their heart that Brooke, a vivacious and caring young woman, will be home soon. He said the family will continue their search for her and expressed appreciation for all the help they are receiving from volunteers, as well as from local search and rescue and law enforcement agencies, which he said responded to their initial call with some 30 police officers.
"I can't tell you how grateful I am for all of those people," Brother Hansen added.
Brooke has shoulder-length blonde hair and blue eyes and is 5 feet and 4 inches tall, weighing between 105 and 110 pounds. The family urges anyone with information or wanting to help to see: www.findbrooke.com.
E-mail: [email protected]