(Introduction to show begins)
TODD MATTHEWS (Missing Pieces Host): I’m Todd Matthews. Tonight we have Vicki Barnard. Welcome Vicki.
VICKI BARNARD (Guest): Thank you, Todd.
TODD: Don’t be shy now. Vicki is the mother of missing Ahren Benjamin Barnard. I’ve got his picture in front of me; I actually look at your website while I’m doing the interviews, and he’s a handsome young fellow. And he has been missing since December 4, 2004, from Boise, Idaho. And you’re in Portland, Oregon now, right?
VICKI: We lived in Boise for 19 years, and then I moved onto Salt Lake, and he decided to stay a while because that’s where he had grown up and all of his friends. And then I ended up Portland. So we’ve been apart for a number of years…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …as he grew into adulthood, but we’re very, very close and we talked sometimes every day and at least every week.
TODD: And we’re going to skip around a whole lot in this because everybody…and I always suggest that people look at the website and read your website before they listen to the program or read the program once we get done with the transcription, because it just adds so much more to it. I’m starting just like what they would. I’m having the questions that somebody would have when they read your website. You son was the same age that I am, he’s a year younger than I am now, when he disappeared at 36 years old, so I can really relate to this. So how far are you now in Portland from Idaho, from Boise?
VICKI: It’s about an 8-hour drive going over the Blue Mountains, so it’s a distance that you can’t go back and forth a lot. It’s about an hour by plane, so it’s not too terribly far but it’s very difficult to be over there a lot. One, I only have so much vacation time, and it’s costly, and it takes a while to drive, so I don’t get over there very often.
TODD: Is it hard being away from…
VICKI: I’m sorry, what?
TODD: Oh that’s okay. Go ahead.
VICKI: I was going to say, I’ve learned to work long distance much better in the last year or so.
TODD: Oh, absolutely. Is it difficult being away from the area where you know that your son went missing and not being able to be there?
VICKI: Yes. I have had this urge to move back there. It pulls at me constantly because, in the beginning, there just wasn’t anything being done…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …and we can maybe go into that a little bit, but in the beginning I just needed to be there, and I went over when he first disappeared, for a couple weeks, came back to work, and I just…I couldn’t do it. So I had to go back and see what I could do to try and find him, and I was forced to come back; I am single…I’ve been divorced since he was 2 years old, so it was very, very difficult, and it still is difficult to not be there. But I do think that something bad has happened to him and so I do not feel safe in Boise when I’m there either.
TODD: And I reading, ‘If it takes going to the end of the earth, Vicki would walk a million miles to find an answer.’
TODD: And I believe you would.
VICKI: And I would. I actually work on my son’s case every day.
TODD: Now, when you say you work on his case, what do you do?
VICKI: In the very beginning, I think we’ve talked about this but, in the very beginning, the police…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …I think that most people or many people have the same issue, and if you are out there listening, and you are not getting help from the police, do not get discouraged, because frankly, I hated the police in the beginning. When my son first disappeared, I called the fellow for over a week, every day, and he never once returned a phone call. So one day, he picked up the phone and then he very casually asked me what I thought had happened, and we had a discussion, and that was pretty much the end of it. You know, they did take a report right off…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …but they said that there was a rule that they couldn’t do anything for 30 days. They had to wait for 30 days to see if he…as an adult, of course, he has the right to walk away from his life, and they wanted to wait 30 days.
TODD: Now, what you are actually saying is, knowing that they had to go through the motion of the privilege of being an adult and walking away, that you knew that he wouldn’t have done that?
VICKI: Yes, and the answer I got from that is, and actually I really tried very hard to be totally open-minded about it…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …that, you know, maybe…maybe he fell, maybe he got hurt, maybe something happened to him and he had amnesia, maybe, all of a sudden, he came down with schizophrenia of something, and I know that some of those are wild ideas, but I really, truly wanted to force myself to be open-minded because I didn’t know what happened, but it was not like my son to have ever done anything like that and because I raised him by myself and he wasn’t married at the time, I worried about him all the time and he worried about me. We were very close. We could push each other’s buttons quite well as parents and children do, but we still were very close and he knew that I worried about him. Sometimes he would go out after work because he was looking for motorcycle parts and things like that for his business, and he wouldn’t get to my house until 3 o’clock or 5 o’clock in the morning and I would worry about him all the time that he was driving so I would make him call me and wake me up to tell me where he was, you know just like a parent, but then he worried me too. So he would not, I don’t believe, ever have walked away from, not just me, but he has two children and a home that he owned, his cars, the artwork that he loved, the material things that he had, if he was going to disappear he would have sold them, and then said, “You know what, I’m off to live in Europe or something.” But he would not have just walked away from everything, he was so dependent on his phone and his friends, he believed so strongly in friendships. And he just had a great zest for life. People liked to be around him; he was fun. He would not have done that. He had a big presence but a really soft, kind heart.
TODD: Well, you know you have to hope that law enforcement are right in that time period, that 30 days, or whatever time period they give you before you’re fully able to report the case, you have to hope, “Well, maybe they know what they’re talking about. Maybe they’re right. Maybe this will all be over soon.”
VICKI: Right. Especially if it’s a male in that certain age group particularly. I had one policeman tell me that’s why they wouldn’t do anything because he’s at that age where, you know, they could disappear and start over; they’re young and…
VICKI: …that sort of thing, but…
TODD: Well, he wasn’t married at the time and, you know, that’s just a possibility, and I can see exactly why it’s so difficult because people go missing all the time, and I can tell you right now on the radio out loud, if I’m ever gone, somebody come looking for me because I’m not leaving without a trace.
TODD: There’s just no way.
VICKI: Well now we know. All of America knows.
TODD: I want everybody to know that…come looking for me. I want somebody to look for me, and you know I think there are a lot of people, if they could go on record saying that, “I am not somebody that would do something like this,” but nobody thinks about this until they felt it.
VICKI: I was talking to Doug Lyall yesterday…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …from the Center For Hope in New York.
TODD: A very good friend.
VICKI: Oh, he is?
VICKI: I just met him and he seems like a really nice guy, but the one thing he said that I have always said as well and that is, if your going to err, err on the side of caution…
VICKI: …so let’s look for them.
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: Because I think that also, just my personal opinion is, just as the first hours are so crucial in finding a little child, the evidence is important also for an adult. Find a missing adult when the evidence in there, and I think this waiting thing is just silly, I do, I think it’s careless. I understand the complication of it because we do have such great freedom in America…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …but still, I think a mother knows her child, and they can surprise us, we may not know them as well as we think, I’m open to that too, but the police, in the beginning with me, not only were they not doing anything for 30 days, but one of the policemen said to me, “Well Ma’am, you need to accept that fact that, mostly likely, your son walked away and committed suicide because it’s Christmastime and you need to probably just accept that.” And what blew my mind at that time, well I was still in shock I’m sure, but there was no evidence either side; that he walked away or that something bad happened to him, so why make a statement that was so bold as to probably what happened when there was no evidence to that?
TODD: This is really generalizing things.
VICKI: Yeah. It just showed that I don’t think they cared very much, and from that point on they were very, very difficult to work with, and I wasn’t a piece of cake either because I just disliked them so. In fact, finally, after 6 months, I had probably talked to the detective in charge 6 times, and he wrote me and said that he was tired of my criticizing them, and the only criticism I did was a press release that had half-truths in it, or lies, and also criticized them for fighting me in trying to get DNA evidence and dental records and a history of broken bones into the NCIC system. He refused to put anything into the NCIC. And when he wrote me and said he was tired of my once-a-month criticism, I guess, because I had only talked to him 6 or 8 times and my son had been missing for 6 months, he said that I could no longer call him. And so, what that did for me is, threw me into this place of desperation; I was very depressed. I worked with a private investigator and continued to do my own research, but I finally went to a bereavement class and realized that that policeman had affected me so badly, that I didn’t talk to the police in a year, and then the guilt of that when I realized it, was overwhelming, and I decided at that point that the police were not going to do that to me. And when I called back to Boise, that police officer was no longer there; he had retired, as did his supervisor, captain. And now I have the two most wonderful policemen; they are smart, they are compassionate, they care, they know how to do their jobs, and they are just good, wonderful people, and so I went from hating the police to admiring them and working very closely with them, and they encourage it. So if you’re out there and you’ve had bad times, don’t give up, it really depends on the officer you get.
TODD: It’s the circumstance, I mean you had a bad circumstance initially and then things improved and you were able to go forward, but you know this is something, it’s like you hear, you have to walk through the valley alone, and you know even with people with you, in your heart, you are alone through so much of it because you’re the only one that understands exactly how you feel.
VICKI: Yes, and it’s…it is the most lonely time I have ever had because I feel very, very fortunate that I have many good friends, close female and male friends that I have developed over the years, but not one of them, well there may have been one, the one I live closest to has been very supportive, but for the most part, my friends they just…I love them to death and I’m certainly not angry, but nobody knows what to do. I asked many of my friends, “How many missing people or loved ones of missing people, or friends of friends of missing people do you know?” and none of my friends knows of any other missing people personally.
TODD: It’s always somebody else. They’re somebody else.
TODD: It’s almost like you have this rare disease that nobody wants to talk about because they don’t understand it. It’s true, isn’t it?
VICKI: It is true. And even my co-workers, it was so discouraging because I worked with them and they were so supportive the first month and then after that they move on, I mean, and people should move on with their lives, but I think it’s like that when you lose a loved one…
VICKI: …to death, not missing as well, you just feel like, “Oh my God, nobody cares.” And truly, and I have to thank these people, one person helped me tremendously when I started to come out of that dark spot that I was in was Kelly Jolkowski, she found Benji’s website, I don’t know how, by looking through Google or whatever, but she found him and called me and asked me if he had been reported to the police because it wasn’t clearly stating that on the website. She gave me direction on getting DNA and calling the National Center for Missing Adults and going forward with things like that, which got me motivated. And bless her heart for that. And I met Janice Smolinski, who is a wonderful person and I have a special bond with Jan because she has a son Ahren’s age, who is missing, Billy Smolinski (Episode 19)…
TODD: Another friend.
TODD: It’s a small family and all these people are familiar.
VICKI: Yes. And Judy Maher of ChildSeek, and Vicki Kelly of The Tommy Foundation and also Janelle Rap, I’ve not spoken with Janelle, but there was a musician in Boise, Idaho, that did do a concert through the Squeaky Wheel Tour in Boise, for my son, in honor of my son’s missing. So those people are all, or were, strangers and now they’re the people that I can talk to the best because they understand, and even though my family doesn’t understand…
TODD: They’re your friends now.
VICKI: Yes, they are.
TODD: You know people do tend to treat a missing person case in a family, like a death, and I think that’s the only way they know how to treat it, and it’s like, “Okay, the death has had this long a time that’s passed and now it’s time to move on and everything goes back to normal like everybody else.” But it doesn’t.
VICKI: And so we’re stuck. It doesn’t work and we’re stuck in this place of still trying to find them. And you do move on, I mean as I told you earlier, I have a friend on the east coast and I love him dearly, and when I was so down he said, “Vicki, you need to make up your mind and you should know this by spring,” which was a 6-month period, he said, “you either move on with your life,” and he wasn’t saying to stop looking for my son, but to pull together and move on, “or you decide that you don’t want to live on this earth without your son,” and even if you’re not aware, but somewhere subconsciously, he believed that people will find a way to run their car into a pole or get a disease or something, and I don’t know if there’s any truth to it but it certainly jarred me to hear somebody say, “It doesn’t matter to me, Vicki, if you decide to live on earth or you decide to die because I believe that both sides of the wall are alive.” And he is a very spiritual person and felt that I would be alive either way but it sort of shook me to wake up and start doing things more. So now, I am not as active as some of these wonderful ladies that I’ve mentioned, but I am starting to get active and that is a healing process in itself, and I think that everyone knows that when you help someone else that it does heal you.
TODD: You regained your will to live. I think people do lose their will to live, whether they consciously say, “I don’t want to live anymore,” but when you lose interest in everything, you’re losing your will to live and, like your friend said, you do tend maybe to get sick quicker, you have no will to go on. You know, I’ve seen a grandparent do that; he simply lost his will to live and it didn’t take long after that, when you lose your will, things fall apart for you.
VICKI: My friend means pretty much everything to me so that…but this investigation is going on and I believe that there are people in Boise that know…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …what has happened to him. I do believe that he’s been harmed, and I could be wrong, like I said, I’d be happy to host a crow dinner and eat a lot of crow if I am wrong, but I, in my heart of hearts and in my gut as his mother, I believe that my son has been harmed and that someone is walking free. And I thank God every day for the police that are working the case now, and I just hope that someone out there in Boise, who knows the truth, and there are a number of them, will, with the grace of God, pull up his boots, get courage, come forward and say, ”This is what happened,” or “This is where your son is.” And, until then, I will continue to fight the fight to get the word out, and I thank you, Todd, for this opportunity because it has been hell trying to get the word out in Boise, Idaho, about my son.
TODD: Well, we try to look for people that seem like they need the most help, I’m not saying it because you are a very positive lady and I’ve met some really great people, but you try to see something, the cases that are the hardest to find on the Internet, those are the ones that we want to use because I feel like they’ve had the least opportunity, so we try our best to find things that are the most hidden away.
VICKI: Well, the media is not…of all thing I think most people admit, they’re not fair…
TODD: Yeah. You wouldn’t believe some of the guidelines I’ve been given, because I do media relations, and sometimes it’s a case where they ask you…it’s funny how they ask you how they want a case, they’re looking for a certain age group, a certain sex, or just really specific, “Do you have a missing male between ages 13 and 18, that probably lived in the southeast?” and I don’t know exactly why, I think it’s demographics, maybe they’ve not covered anybody in that certain area and they’re trying their best, but it doesn’t initially have anything to do with the person, and that’s painful.
VICKI: No. No, I don’t think it does either but I do personally think that if they’re young ladies, pretty, blond…
TODD: It happens.
VICKI: …they get a little bit more publicity, and you know what, they can use all they can get, so I don’t begrudge them one tiny bit of it, but I do wish that others will help a little bit more.
TODD: It’s harder for males. It is. It’s harder to get attention for the missing males that are adults. You know the children are always easy and we’ve got the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Children are easier; I’m not saying it’s an easier job, but it’s much easier to get the face of a child around the planet because, you know, nobody…
VICKI: I do have to say this, now that I have the opportunity to say this, I love my country…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …and I am patriotic, but I have to tell you, I have never been so ashamed of my country as when they let the funds sit in a committee for the National Center for Missing Adults, the one national clearinghouse that we have. What happened to that is shameful, just shameful, and we have enough money in this country.
TODD: Uh huh. We do. We need every effort, and there are so many efforts, and this one costs nearly nothing. I mean we’re talking about long distance and website fees, nearly nothing. And it can be done. You can do these things for nothing, if you have the desire to do it, you can do it but there are places where you need centers and with actual physical locations where you can go, and like you said, the funding is there. We need all the help we can get.
TODD: I don’t think we can overdo it.
VICKI: And thank God for volunteers like you, Todd.
TODD: Well, we’ve got to try because I don’t want to be you, you know, this is really selfish, I don’t want to trade places with you. I don’t. I don’t want my children to have to stand in your shoes. I don’t ever want anybody to have to stand in your shoes. I can’t do anything about cancer; I can’t do anything about so many other plagues, but this one seems to be something that I can work in, so I think if I didn’t, it would be a sin for me not to. I don’t think I could be happy with myself if I didn’t keep trying.
VICKI: There are a lot of people that are grateful, Todd, that you’re out there doing this, truly.
TODD: I’m trying and I wish I could do more and I feel guilty when I think that there’s not enough done, you know, that there simply wasn’t enough done. I could do one of these a night rather than one a week but, you know, I’ve got a 5 year old, I’ve got a 15 year old and it’s hard to get it done…
TODD: …but I’m thinking, “You can always do more.”
VICKI: Yeah, you know, we work hard in America, we do. You know I just read an article the other day where Europeans, I can’t remember which country is was, Germany I think, added an extra week so now they get 7 weeks instead of 6 weeks vacation a year, mandatory. (Laughs)
TODD: Oh, wow. I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have something to do constantly. I would lose my mind.
VICKI: It’s difficult doing all that we do, with families, you have a little one and a teenager and all that, but what you do is appreciated and it’s needed, so we need to get the word out there about missing people. I ask my friends now, “Did you get that little mailer in the mail? Did you look at the picture?”
TODD: You know people do, you need to do that if it doesn’t hurt, and it’s there and, you know, I see people that really don’t look at them, so you really have to. Usually when I look at them they’re familiar because I think, “Well, I’ve seen that one 15 times before,” and I guess people grow immune to them, I’m not sure. You know what you’ve taught us something about tonight…you’ve laughed, there have been points where you’ve had happy moments and you’ve used them, and you have smiled and laughed and that’s telling me, you’re not better but you’re able to survive.
VICKI: Yeah, I think when I’m at work during the day and all, you would be hard-pressed to know that I have a heartache, but when I go home and the nights, they’re hard. I saw a poem the other day on a website that talked about the hidden aches that we have inside and I know that every person that has a missing loved one has a horrible, horrible ache inside, but you do choose to make the best of it or not. And my son had such a great spirit about him and I am confident knowing that my son loved me a great deal.
TODD: Well, he was your best friend too, I hear.
VICKI: Yeah, he was. In fact, one of his good friends told me after Ahren disappeared, he said, “You know, I am so close to my Mom, I always got called ‘Momma’s boy’ and I thought that there was nobody as close to their Mom as I am with mine but” he said, “Benj, takes the cake.” And so you know we did stay close but it’s because I raised him by myself…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …and we had hard times when he was a teenager, and we didn’t see eye to eye on many things, but I raised him to be a freethinker and independent and he didn’t rely on me, he loved me and I love him, so it’s a very huge loss and he is my only child. I do have a mother and a brother and a sister, but my Dad died during this period, one of my best friends died during this period, and I lost my private investigator; he had a heart attack and died, so it’s been a really hard time, but the human body perseveres…and the human spirit.
TODD: Well you have to, you know we’re all programmed, we all know we have to say goodbye, but it’s hard to say goodbye when you don’t actually see and recognize it and move to the next page, it’s that unknowing. That not knowing exactly what happened keeps you from being able to say goodbye. It makes it really hard and I know that. I’m going to take you…
VICKI: There are…
TODD: Go ahead.
VICKI: There are so many people out there that, I have not been able to do much for anyone else, my son’s webpage is about him and I’m going to expand it…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …to help others but, up until now, I haven’t been able to do too much on the fight because I was too tender, but I’m getting stronger and will join that fight, but for those who are in that tender spot, there are so many wonderful people out there within ‘the missing families’ family…
VICKI: …that there are people to help you and that can listen to you and they know exactly what you’re feeling and do reach out, and if nothing else, just Google ‘missing persons’ and there will be a whole slew of things that come up.
TODD: Oh yeah, tons.
VICKI: Like the National Center for Missing Adults.
TODD: Now you have to be careful, if you work too hard, you’re going to overexpose these cases, right? But really, there is no such thing, you know. I think every time you think, “Oh, this is just another drop in the bucket,” but at least the drops keep dropping and you keep working and eventually you’re going to make an impact somewhere, somehow, you’re going to help something.
VICKI: Yes, and there are so many things that the police didn’t think about…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …in my son’s case, so you know, a little investigation on your own, as long as you don’t get into any place dangerous or anything like that, I think is a good thing. So many people have cell phones now and there was a…you will probably know this, I can’t remember, but it was a young girl that was abducted from the…
VICKI: …shopping mall in the South, I think.
TODD: And they were able to track the cell phone.
VICKI: Yes, and so I called Sprint to see, but they only keep the record for 45 days. If I had thought of this when my son disappeared, he never goes anywhere without his cell phone.
TODD: And we talk about cell phones a lot, you know on this show we have talked about them, and that’s one of the first things that somebody should try to do, they should try to get access to some of those phone records and try to protect them in case they become important later, because usually by the time you think of them, you know you might think to call the phone but you don’t think to secure the records.
VICKI: Absolutely, because sometimes they will disappear.
TODD: They do. They do.
VICKI: And that’s the first thing we did do was take all of his out-going and in-coming calls, but you can also request, and often this requires a court order, but cell site information, which will be the ‘ping’…
VICKI: …and they’ll be able to tell what tower it’s closest to, which gives the police the general vicinity of where they might be, if in fact they are injured or not alive any longer.
TODD: Well, you know if people read this and think this won’t affect them, somebody in your situation, if they could hear this and maybe, you know you’re kind of alone with your son, just you and him basically…
TODD: …if you were both on a joint account where you could have access to his phone records if you needed to, if you had that level of trust between you, that court record wouldn’t be necessary, that court order.
VICKI: That’s true. That’s true.
TODD: So, hopefully, somebody out there thinking, “I’m bullet-proof, this wouldn’t happen to me,” why not err on the side of caution, you know.
VICKI: And, you know, let me just comment on that too, because that’s why it was so difficult to be treated badly by the police because I have never broken a law in my life; I am just a normal, average, law-abiding citizen and I would uncomfortable in court or in a police station, I don’t know and it’s not an area that I’m familiar with, and of all the people that I have talked to, they are all the same sort of people.
TODD: Look at Janice Smolinski, she stirred up some dust and she nearly got put in…she got in a lot of trouble with law enforcement and didn’t do anything except refuse to accept that this had happened.
TODD: And really, what did she really do?
VICKI: Yeah, and there was a situation where someone was tearing down flyers and…
TODD: Well that would make me mad…
TODD: …I would be wanting to find, “Why did somebody do this to me unless they’re just cruel or they’re involved in what happened?”
TODD: That’s the only two options I would think.
VICKI: It’s good people out there that this happens to so if you think it’s not going to happen to you, no one was more shocked than me. I thought my life was going well, things were just fine, and how nice to finally be of an age where you don’t have drama in your life.
TODD: Well, you were at a good age and your son was in his middle years, you know I’m at that age now and I’m getting to enjoy a really good life with my parents and my children and I’m thinking this is the perfect age, and it is.
TODD: I’m not old but I’m not young…
VICKI: Until something happens.
TODD: Until something happens.
VICKI: So, anybody that feels bullet-proof, you need to take another look.
TODD: I know I’m going to do everything I can to protect this, you know, I think I’ve got a good life, I’m a busy person but I’ve got a good life and I want it to stay that way, so unless we pay attention to the problem, how quickly we could change places, you know I don’t want to and I don’t think anybody out there would want to change places with you.
TODD: Well, I want to take you back to December 4, 2004, because we’ve talked a lot about how you feel things now I want to try to actually touch on the case with Ahren. Missing since December 4, 2004, from Boise, Idaho, 36-year-old white male, brown hair, brown eyes, 6 feet tall, 180 pounds. He had on a golden-brown leather jacket. Deep dimples when he smiles; pierced ears. Ahren was last seen at 7 p.m. on Saturday, December 4th, in Boise; he was wearing blue jeans and a brown suede jacket…I’m reading the same thing…tell me about that. He was actually visiting his young son, right?
VICKI: Yes, he has a young son; he has a daughter and a young son; two different families…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …and he had visitation from noon on Friday until noon on Monday. And I talked to him on Friday evening, he was cooking dinner for he and his son in his home, and he was in a good mood, everything was fine. We were talking about Christmas and making Christmas plans and wondering if I would come to Boise or he would come over; what we were going to do, and I asked him if he could measure his son for a tricycle, and he said, “You know what Mum, that would be fun. I’ll take him out and we’ll try a couple of things and see what he likes and I’ll let you know,” and then I would buy that for him for Christmas. And I didn’t hear from him on Saturday, but Saturday he was very busy with his friends; he had made a number of phone calls and visited a friend that lives just a couple of blocks away, and then he had to hurry to take his son back to the mother. Ahren had plans that night to go out with a friend so instead of getting a babysitter that the child didn’t know, he took him back to the Mom and she would have him overnight and then Ahren would go pick him up the next morning around 9 o’clock or so and he’d call in the morning and they’d set up a time to meet. They usually met about half way; he lived on one side of town and she on the other so they met at the MacDonald’s at Overland and Cole in the middle of Boise. So he took their son back and on his way back to the house, he stopped and got some fastfood to eat; he was talking to a friend, he got a call from another friend. He left the first one and called the other one back and took that call and that’s the last phone call on his phone. And when we didn’t hear from him, because he was an adult, we thought, “Well, maybe he went somewhere,” and it was unlike him to even to go somewhere with a friend and not tell someone, but we waited and nobody really wanted to call the police and make that report because it just was so out of our grasp that something happened to him. It’s just…nobody wants to go to that ugly place. There was no sign of a struggle, no blood, nothing like that, and so we didn’t do it for a while and then we decided to wait…this was a big mistake, but we decided to wait until the following Sunday because if he’d gone out of town or flown out of town, you know that Saturday-night-stay rule, and then we would be sure. And when Sunday came, I called the police to make a missing person report and so did the mother of his child, and she was local so she ended up filing the report. And he just went ‘Poof!’ His car was in the driveway, you know he didn’t answer his email, his phone; his phone and driver’s license and passport and all eventually showed up on his desk, so they were all there as well.
TODD: He had a cat and a dog unattended and without food and water; that’s obviously not like him.
VICKI: Right, and also the cat, a very strange thing, this was the only thing that got the interest of the police in the very beginning was that he was a wonderful little cat named Scrap Iron, and Scrap Iron, when you come to the front door, she stays inside and outside, she was an indoor/outdoor cat, and she would always come up to you when you were knocking on the door and ring the doorbell and rub up against you; she was very friendly and loved to welcome you to the house, and afterwards, when my son disappeared, she would no longer come close to the house. She would stand in another yard and you could not get her to come close to the house, so we think that maybe she experienced some trauma there, we don’t know for sure. And then the dog was not fed, and he would never have left the dog without somebody taking care of the dog. He made many, many trips in his business, to and from Portland or Salt Lake or Spokane, and he always had someone watching his dog, to feed him, and the cat. So he would not have left town without arranging that.
TODD: Well, and I’m going to ask you the obvious and, again, anybody that’s listening to this, they really need to look at the website that’s actually linked there because it is important to read this information. One of the things I’m going to ask, you had a good relationship with the mothers of his two children, right?
VICKI: Well, the mother of his daughter died.
VICKI: They were engaged and she died, so that daughter is with an aunt and uncle, but the mother of his son, I don’t think it was a warm and cozy relationship, but they did get along okay for the sake of the child, yes.
TODD: So there was no ongoing battle that would merit somebody possibly so angry at somebody that they would want him gone?
VICKI: Not that I’m aware of.
TODD: That’s never been indicated to you, and I don’t want to point fingers at anybody but that’s the first thing you think of.
VICKI: There were some difficulties, you know, definitely with the child custody; there was a child custody issue for his son and the judge did rule on joint custody. So that’s one issue but I’m saying that anyone there is a suspect, but there was an issue there that wasn’t a comfortable issue and he did have a falling-out with a business partner; that was an uncomfortable situation but, again, I don’t know if it has anything to do with his disappearance.
TODD: But it has to come to mind?
VICKI: Yeah, absolutely comes to mind, particularly the business situation.
TODD: So if anybody has a tip, the website is http://helpfindahren.com, and it’s a-h-r-e-n for Ahren. The Boise police is Sergeant Barnett, I think, is the person that’s been helping you most of all?
VICKI: Yes, Sergeant (Mark) Barnett, and the number is 208-373-5401.
TODD: And there’s an email address on the website so we have that readily available. He’s got a pretty little girl; I always look at the website when I do this.
VICKI: The children are a little bit older now but, for safety reasons, I didn’t want to put current pictures.
TODD: Well, of course.
VICKI: I do think that there are people in Boise that know. I know that there were tire tracks on the front yard, and when I was over there it was icy cold in December, and the lawn was matted where the tracks were. There had been some sort of vehicle that backed up towards the lawn portion of his home and I don’t know if that’s something meaningful or not, but it’s certainly questionable. And his house was burgled twice; once immediately after he disappeared, and once a little bit later.
TODD: Was that normal for that area? I mean, is that…?
VICKI: No, he lived in a nice area and it’s not normal. He had never…I think he was burgled once when he first moved in, but things were stolen.
TODD: Well, I’m not saying anything bad about the initial investigation, but was there ever any type of Luminol…because it might not have been called for at the time, I don’t know, but Luminol to see if anything had been cleaned up. Any type of struggle, and I know that no visible signs of struggle are there, but those are easy to take care of, the visible signs; a chair turned over or anything else.
VICKI: Yes, there was a piece of furniture that was missing, which was there when I talked to him on Friday night, so that was interesting. We asked the police to come by but they did not come by the house. They did an initial good neighbors wellness check…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …to see that nothing was disturbed or blood splatter or things like that, and said that the house looked okay. But then, a friend of Ahren’s, who was very instrumental in writing things down in the beginning and helping me in the beginning and still is a support to me now, she purchased a Luminol light…
VICKI: …on the web, so we looked, but not knowing how to do this and what to do…
TODD: Well you had watched CSI, of course, so you knew exactly what to do.
TODD: It’s crazy. I mean, the fact that we can sit here and laugh at this, is crazy because you have to do these things sometimes.
VICKI: Well, we did, but we didn’t have the Luminol and couldn’t get a hold of it so without it, the light just wasn’t…
TODD: Just didn’t work, did it?
VICKI: It just didn’t work; it was sort of like looking at a blacklight, you know, so it didn’t work. But we did do that on our own, and I did save some things that I thought might be important in the investigation.
TODD: Yeah, I heard you had quite a bit of interesting clues and notes. You had quite a pile, I hear.
VICKI: I have boxes of information.
TODD: Things that you feel need to be reviewed, right?
VICKI: Yes, things that need to be reviewed. For instance, he paid his water bill…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …it was a past-due bill and he paid it the day before he disappeared, and you know you’re not going to pay a large bill if you’re going to disappear, if you had planned to walk away and stuff. There are some things like that that I kept, but mostly I used his phone records and I’ve called people and sometimes it breaks my heart, I think that he’s been totally forgotten from his friends in Boise and then I’ll come across someone that says, “We think of him every day and we have his poster up and we pray for him,” and it warms my heart to know that just because there’s no noise out there, it doesn’t mean that people’s hearts aren’t hurting, and that buoys me up for another week or two, knowing that. The biggest challenge in Boise has been the Idaho Statesman; it took me 2 ½ years for them to let me buy an ad, and when the Idaho State Legislature declared, and I’m sorry I can’t remember the date, September 14th I think, but declared this day as Idaho’s Missing Persons Day, the Idaho Statesman, which is the major paper in the state, would not print it.
TODD: Any explanation for that?
VICKI: No, just they didn’t think it was of interest to the readers.
VICKI: Well we have exchanged words on that; emails, but they did just recently allow me to buy an ad, and then as a result of the ad, one of the TV stations, KIVI Channel 6 did pick up the story and did a nice minute-long piece of Ahren with lots of pictures. And then the next week the police, because things were rolling, they went ahead and did a press release themselves, and all of the radio stations and TV stations in Idaho state have picked that up, just mentioning that it’s been over 2 ½ years that he’s been missing.
TODD: If you used the media just right, it gets the ball rolling.
VICKI: Yes. Yes, but it was hard in Idaho; very, very hard, at least in the Boise area.
TODD: Now, you’ve got a ticker on your website that says 2 years, 6 months and 15 days.
TODD: That is like a constant reminder. I bet you go to that website every day.
VICKI: It’s my homepage. He also has a nice space on http://www.myspace.com/ahrenbarnard.
TODD: I think I’ve run into that one.
TODD: That’s where we kind of ran into each other was there, and it’s good, you know there are a lot of bad things said about MySpace that some of the people use it for, the younger people, but I don’t want to leave it to that, we’ve got to claim it for our own use; it’s an incredible technology.
VICKI: Absolutely, and I would suggest that people who are out there doing their own investigation, you know, and I’m not an expert at all, I’m not, but I’ve been fortunate in having Ahren’s cell phone and I called people and asked how they knew my son and when was the last time they talked to him, what were they doing with him, and do they know anything, and what other friends do they suggest I talk to. I just went through all of his cell phone library and, through that, learned names that I wasn’t aware of and when you go to MySpace, you can pick up stuff.
TODD: Well, you see you can investigate, we’re certainly not telling people to go out and start interrogating people in dangerous situations, but there are things that you can do constructively like the MySpace, the computer, email records, there are so many things that you can preserve, the cell phone records; not things that you take and investigate but take an effort to preserve them and have them ready in case they’re need at some point in time. That’s very important.
VICKI: Absolutely, and I would suggest that they never go out to confront anyone they think has anything to do with anything, or even phone them, that’s the police’s work. Ours is just trying to get contact points and timing and some others things that…little, tiny things that will all come together one day and make a case, but certainly, I don’t put myself in danger at all. I rely on the police to do that sort of work.
TODD: Well your son wouldn’t have wanted you to put yourself in danger, I’m absolutely positive of that. He would not want anything to happen to you as a result of his disappearance.
VICKI: Yes, no, he wouldn’t, no. He would hate that I’m going through this as it is. He loved to laugh and have a good time. He was a very hard worker but he loved to laugh and he could make me laugh better than anyone on earth; he was so funny, and he certainly would not like to see all of this sadness. But, still, we just need to bring him home and if there’s anyone involved and it comes up to punishment, that’s up to God and the police. I just want to find my son. I just want to know where he is, and if someone wants to call in anonymously and just say, “I know where he is, go find him there,” you know, they can do it anonymously; go to a library, get on a computer and email email@example.com, or the police. I just want to know where he is.
TODD: There’s always a way, you know, and I’ve tried to call in tips to law enforcement before, it’s not always easy, even leaving my name and trying to tell them, “We have a tip on a case and we’re trying to pass it along,” I’ve thought at time, “Boy, if I was an anonymous tipster, I would have hung up,” you know…
VICKI: Oh really?
TODD: …because sometimes it’s difficult to get through. So we’ve made more opportunity here; there are lots of ways, so if there’s any way that you have an anonymous tip, we’ll definitely make sure that it reaches Sergeant Barnett. However we have to do it, we’ll do it. We’ll make sure.
VICKI: He will follow up on it. He’s a wonderful policeman and he will follow up on it.
TODD: You’ll make sure of that. Can you tell me a little bit about Ahren’s kids?
VICKI: You know I trust him (referring to Sgt. Barnett).
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: It’s so great to be in a position from being stepped on and spit on, basically called a liar in every word but, “You’re a liar,” and then to go 180 degrees different, to have the Boise police be such really truly great police officers that are working the case now. And so I really do trust that they have my son’s best interest at heart, and they know that often in finding these people, if they are not alive, and you know maybe they’ll find my son alive, we’re all open to that, but if they find him deceased, they know that they are doing this not only for that person but for the families because it’s the families that struggle so…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …in dealing with all of this, and they do that. They are so…nobody is perfect, and my son certainly wasn’t perfect, but he was a great, great son; he was a great father and a great friend to many so he deserves better than this and they are so accepting of that. I can’t say enough good about the current police or enough bad about the past police, so I hope that gives some people hope if they’re struggling with the police.
TODD: Well you’ve got to find a way around it if you’ve got a bad situation with law enforcement, I think you’re going to have to try to call somebody the next level higher in rank; there’s got to be somebody. You don’t have to just sit there and think, “Maybe it’s me.” You know there’s definitely somebody else you can talk to in law enforcement, or you can call one of the wonderful organizations that you can find online and they might be able to help liaison you into a better relationship. I know that’s possible; I’ve seen that happen. Can you tell me a little bit about your grandchildren? How are they taking what’s happening? It’s been 2 ½ years.
VICKI: Well, unfortunately the little boy…
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: …he’s a wonderful little boy and we talk to him on the phone all the time, and I would see him when I would go to Boise to visit, but since Ahren disappeared I have not been allowed to see him. The mother did re-marry and she thinks that I’m too emotional, I guess, is what she told me last time I called.
TODD: What about grandparents’ rights, you know? Of course, that’s another battle.
VICKI: She lives in Washington and there are none in Washington, nor are there any in Idaho, so I don’t have them, but I’m hoping…she’s not a bad person, she’s a nice person. She just wanted to, I guess, keep her life separate from our family, now that she could, so I hope that someday she will re-think that decision, and I’m a great grandma, I am, I will say that. My granddaughter is 10 years old, and we have an excellent relationship and I love her with all my heart and she loves me back. We’re very close. She has struggled a great deal about losing her father. They were not close; there was a bitter custody battle years ago, and she’s not close to him but she’s lost her mother and now she fears she’s lost her biological father. And the thing that breaks my heart now is that Ahren is missing, he would never give up his parental rights but they are going to adopt her; the aunt and uncle are going to adopt her now, and it’s probably a good thing for her with what she’s been going through, but it’s very hard for me to see that happen when my son is missing.
TODD: Uh huh.
VICKI: I’m the only one here to represent him and I struggle between what’s best for her and what he wants, and it just tears me apart.
TODD: Well, she’s going to get a parental unit this way, in the meantime.
TODD: But are you still going to get to be grandma?
VICKI: Yes. They have said that I am her grandma and we are close and they would not change that.
TODD: That’s wonderful.
VICKI: Yeah. I will still get to see her.
TODD: It’s hard to say to that you’re a lucky woman, in the circumstances, but you have been in so many ways, but you’ve made this luck, it’s not just been blind luck. You’ve had to blaze this trail. You’ve had to do this, and I want everybody else that’s listening to know, you have to make it happen.
VICKI: I do want to say this too, Todd, that you’re right there, that I’ve always, in business, hated the “squeaky wheel syndrome,” the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, you know, the whiner, the complainer, that sort of thing; I’ve never embraced that concept, but I do have to say that, I think when it comes to missing people, you’ve got to work with the police, you’ve got to stay in contact with them without being a pest, even if that’s hard.
TODD: You have a responsibility, you know.
VICKI: Yes, you have a responsibility, and I know that when I had gone into that dark deep spot that I mentioned, and came out of it, I found out that the policeman, the detective who was in charge of my son’s case, had retired in October; I came out of my depression in May and called, and between October and May, nothing was worked on for my son. I think that the new people had reviewed the case, but it wasn’t being actively pursued. And when I called them and talked to them, they pulled it out, they looked at things and we went over and visited with them, and then we got so many opportunities to…
TODD: Well see, they needed you. They really did; they needed you and I think when law enforcement and the families learn to work together, and I think that’s what people like me try to do, you try to help the law enforcement and the families work together, because it’s not always a harmonious relationship, you have to find ways for this give and take. You know, how can you use this family’s great passion to be the most effective way to tackle this problem? And family, how can you do the things that you have to do and not trip up law enforcement? There has to be a communication there. There has to be a trust there.
VICKI: Absolutely. And when I went in to talk to the Boise Police in November, this past November (2006), it was the first time that I had met the new officers working the case, it just about floored me when Sergeant Barnett said, “Well this is great that you’re here. I wish more families would get involved.” Of course, that was the opposite sort of treatment that I had before so I was afraid that I would be unwelcome and looked at as being this pushy pest.
TODD: Well you feel like you’ve done something when you’ve not done anything, you know, I know people feel like, “God, I hate to bother them,” but you haven’t done anything.
VICKI: They are very busy.
TODD: Well, this is probably the worst part of the show…you know I don’t know if Ahren is alive or not, but wherever, you spoke earlier, there are two sides, and on both sides there’s life.
VICKI: I believe that.
TODD: If you want to send a message to him, what would you say, whether here or there, what do you want to say to Ahren? Is there anything that would you like to tell him? If he can hear you, or whatever…
VICKI: If he’s alive and living on this earth, he needs to let us know, if he can, that he’s okay. If he doesn’t want to be found, you know that’s fine, but I need to know that he’s okay and his friends and the rest of his family, they need to know also. And if he has passed on, I know that he already knows this but…that I love him with all my heart and I always will, and I pray that one day I will have a happy day again because he was my world. And I just hope that he is with my Dad and my grandparents and Tiara, his fiancée and the mother of his daughter, and my friends, and my private investigator and that they are having a joyful happy life.
TODD: That’s always the hardest part but I think it’s a message that needs to be delivered and I hope we can help you deliver it to wherever it goes.
VICKI: Thank you, Todd.
TODD: I appreciate you being here, so much, and this is just the beginning. Like you said, this is a family. It’s not a ‘thank you for being a guest, now you’re moving along,’ you’re part of the family.
VICKI: It’s my privilege and thank you, and I sincerely appreciate what you do and also Kimberly Bruklis, for what she does in putting your program together.
TODD: She’s wonderful. She does a great job. And we’ll say goodnight to our guests and then I have got to talk to Vicki just a little bit more, but I thank everybody for listening. I hope it helps someway, somehow; I hope it helps. Goodnight, everybody.
VICKI: Thank you.