Two big dates have now passed in the search for a missing BYU student believed abducted last spring in Oregon the six-month mark and Christmas.
For the family of Brooke Wilberger, a 19-year-old described as a "warm, bubbly, mission-minded girl," several things have stood out amidst the searches and the tears. There is the comfort of an eternal perspective. There are hard-learned lessons in patience. And there is the hope that comes as people throughout the community and the nation remember Brooke.
And remembering they are. The family has sold thousands of pink elastic wristbands, the kind made popular by bicycling champion Lance Armstrong, with the words www.findbrooke.com and the tip line: 800-843-5678. The first order of 20,000 sold out in three days around the end of October. And a second order of 25,000 is still selling, brother-in-law and family spokesman Zak Hansen said during a telephone conversation.
"We ask for a dollar donation, but for us it isn't about raising money," emphasized Brother Hansen, who attends the Corvallis 1st Ward, Corvallis Oregon Stake, with his wife, Stephani Hansen, Brooke's sister. "It's mainly about keeping her on people's minds."
Brooke Wilberger had just completed her freshman year at BYU when she disappeared May 24 from a Corvallis apartment complex managed by her sister and brother-in-law. The young woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and blue eyes, standing at 5 feet and 4 inches tall, was last seen cleaning light bulb covers in the parking lot. News reports say her purse, keys, cell phone and car were left behind. Her flip-flops were found in the parking lot. A nationwide search followed in the ensuing days as volunteers searched thousands of square miles in Corvallis and surrounding areas.
And the search continues. Brother Hansen said requests for wristbands have come from New York, Nevada, Washington and throughout Oregon. "We had a girls basketball team in Washington wanting them. We had in one of the neighboring towns kids at an elementary school wanting to help. We gave them a couple hundred (wristbands) and they sold them to other kids within the school."
Brother Hansen has even seen people wearing them in the gym where he works out.
All of this, he said, brings hope. "Knowing the eternal perspective of everything is what has been my greatest strength," he told the Church News. He emphasized, quietly, that the family, including her parents, Greg and Cammy Wilberger, prayerfully seek closure, one way or another, to their ordeal.
"If she is not (alive), I know where she is. That's comforting," Brother Hansen said, speaking not only for himself, but also for the family. "I also know that her Heavenly Father loves her and is with her always, no matter what her circumstances are. Those are the strengths I kind of cling to.
"It's a huge exercise in patience and that can be difficult," he continued. "We just want her back, as quickly as we can. That can be tough. It's a test of faith."
And faith, not only in the gospel of Jesus Christ, but also in others in the community, is what has brought the Wilberger family through these past months and a holiday season. "This type of instance ruins a lot of people's lives and so people have to do things, maybe go to counseling. People have to deal with it in their own way. For me, I look at all the positive things that have happened. And there's been a lot. One of the things I talk to people about is our community."
At the time Brooke disappeared, he related, the community had been torn apart by political issues. "(Then) this happened and everybody kind of came back together."
In fact, it was the community coming together that helped Brother Hansen deal with the initial feelings of "How can this happen in the community where I grew up?"
"When I got out there and saw thousands of people searching, it kind of brought me back," he said. "The community as a whole is great. Just to see people giving up their time."
And last, but not least, Brother Hansen has seen people become more aware of safety issues. Brooke did everything right, he emphasized, and was very safety conscious including occasionally sending e-mails home with messages about personal safety but as people remember Brooke and wear her wristbands, he hopes they also think more about their own safety and be more aware.
And seeing people wear the wristbands, he said, has reminded the Wilberger family, "People still do care."