Missing teen found, reunited with family


It was a Google search that started the ball rolling in getting a missing local teen home.

The person who called in a tip to the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation had encountered 15-year-old Emily Graeber in California, unaware that she had been missing since Oct. 29.

“The person that provided the information to us felt like something just wasn’t right and used the search engine Google to find out if maybe Emily was missing from somewhere,” said Craig Akers, who along with his wife, Pam, founded the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation after the Akers’ son, Shawn Hornbeck, went missing in 2002.

However, an initial online search gave no indication that Graeber was missing.

“The first time he did a search, he didn’t find anything. But the feeling kept nagging him,” Craig Akers said. But, on Wednesday, Nov. 14, the person searched her name again and this time, found a number of Web sites stating that Graeber was missing, including those set up by the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, www.helpfindemily.com, and www.alostchild.com, which were set up to assist the Graeber family in searching for Emily.

Around 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the person called the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation with the tip regarding Emily’s whereabouts.

Craig Akers said that after consulting a close friend of the Graeber family, they decided they would not tell Emily’s parents, Kenneth and Marsha, until they were sure Emily was there.

“We didn’t want to get Emily’s parents’ hopes up. It might not be Emily, or Emily might not be there,” he said.

The Akerses knew that Emily’s grandmother’s health was failing, and they also wanted to act quickly on the tip, so they booked the next flight they could find, a 6:20 a.m. flight out of Lambert.

Pam Akers said they contacted California law enforcement, but were told that they might have to wait for several hours, because it was a non-emergency situation.

“Craig and I said, ‘We’re not waiting around. The opportunity is now.'”

The Akerses said they met with the person who called in the tip, who showed them the apartment where Emily was staying with a teenage boy she had met, and the boy’s mother.

“I told the mother that Emily was a missing child from Missouri, and I asked to speak with her. She invited us in, and went to the bedroom to wake Emily up,” Pam Akers said. “Emily came out, and just by our first look seeing her, we knew it was her,” she said.

After telling Emily who they who were, the Akerses broke the news to her that her grandmother was gravely ill.

“I asked her if she would be willing to come home, and she said ‘yes,'” Pam Akers said. “Immediately she went and packed her things and when she came out she used my cell phone to call her dad. She told him that she was OK, and that she was coming home,” she said. Two hours after the Akerses landed in California, they were headed back to St. Louis with Emily. On Thursday, Nov. 15, Emily was reunited with her family.

“It was extremely emotional,” Pam Akers said. “We knew what they were going through, seeing their daughter again.”

On Thursday, Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation (to which the Graeber family belongs) sent out an email informing the congregation of Emily’s return. “Every once in awhile, the heart of the universe opens to prayer and acts of kindness. Thanks to all of the Angels that are part of this wonderful network of caring people across the country, Emily Graeber is on her way home,” Talve wrote.

In a message on www.helpfindemily.com, Kenneth and Marsha Graeber wrote, “Our hearts are bursting with joy and gratitude to our friends and family…who reached out to us during this most difficult time. To those who helped spread the word via the Web and on the ground in San Francisco, words cannot express how valuable you have been to our efforts. It is your kindness and concern along with the hard work of the staff and volunteers of The Shawn Hornbeck Foundation that brought Emily home to us.”

Sherri Martin, administrator of the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, said that Graeber did make it home in time to see her grandmother, Eleanor Weiss, before she passed away.

Craig Akers said he spent time with the Graebers on Sunday night, and that the family was doing well.

“I think they are on the road to healing,” he said.

“They are naturally grieving over the loss of a loved one, but everyone seems to be holding up well,” Craig Akers said.

“But Emily is at home, where she needs to be,” he said.