BOSTON – Jennifer Nowak, a Westfield resident and older sister of a 16-year-old boy who disappeared riding his new mountain bike in 1996, still has the box for the black hiking boots she bought him for his birthday in her closet. The boots he was wearing the day he was abducted, Nov. 9.
Since James “Jamie” Lusher disappeared, his family has learned he was one of the children targeted by Lewis Lent Jr., a janitor who worked in Pittsfield and has been convicted of two other child murders: 12-year-old Jimmy Bernardo of Pittsfield in 1990 and a New York child, Sara Anne Wood, who was 12 when she disappeared on a quiet road near her home in August 1993.
In a detailed confession offered by Lent to investigators in 2013 in exchange for not being prosecuted for the crime, the Lusher family learned that Jamie had been “kidnapped, murdered and dumped. The murder was solved,” said his sister. “But he’s still missing.”
Searchers spent three days searching Greenwater Pond for the boy’s remains without finding a shred of evidence. Not even one of his black hiking boots. “Our family has nothing, not even a tooth,” Nowak said, adding that she would love to have a relic, a reminder of her brother who would have been 46 if he had lived.
She described him as “happy-go-lucky,” adding that in this day and age, he probably would have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
“He had an 8-year-old’s mentality and was a prime target for Lewis Lent,” Nowak said. “We’ve come here to advocate for him.”
Hers was one of several families who gathered at the base of the Grand Staircase in the Statehouse Wednesday to remember the missing, the exploited and the murdered as part of National Missing Children’s Day, enacted by former President Ronald Reagan and celebrated yearly on May 25.
In Massachusetts, the abduction of Molly Bish, 16, in 2000, who was working as a lifeguard at Comins Pond in Warren when she disappeared, prompted state lawmakers to establish a special day of remembrance. The teenager’s family formed the Molly Bish Center and Foundation in collaboration with Anna Maria College in 2004.
Since then, Sen. Anne Gobi, D-Spencer, and Rep. Todd Smola, R-Warren, have been leading the legislative effort to enhance the state’s resources for investigating the disappeared and exploited residents.
Statewide database among proposals
In her remarks, Gobi, who will be joining the governor’s executive team as the state’s director of rural affairs next month, said she will push several legislative efforts, including funds for a statewide database, as she and her colleagues grapple with the Senate budget proposals before the Memorial Day weekend.
“We want to further the agenda,” Gobi said before leaving the ceremony for the Senate chambers.
- Bill S.1528 allows for the searching of familial DNA and the use of partial DNA information while investigating unsolved crimes.
- Bill S.1578 would develop a guide establishing comprehensive minimum standards for law enforcement agencies, ensuring a uniform response among investigators to reports of missing children, responses tailored to their ages: for children under 10, children under 17, children with mental and physical limitations and dependent adults with mental and physical limitations.
- In the governor’s budget: $300,000 to establish a census of the missing and unidentified, a repository for information about missing and unidentified persons in the Executive Office of Public Safety that could be accessed by law enforcement across the Bay State.
In a gut-wrenching PowerPoint presentation, the audience watched the names, faces, ages and hometowns of missing children in Mass. scroll across a large screen. As of Monday, there were 85 documented cases of missing children in the commonwealth, a list that dates back to 1957 and changes daily, said Melanie Perkins McLaughlin, one of the ceremony’s moderators.
There have been 36 investigations into missing children since Jan. 1 in Massachusetts; almost a dozen of those were reported missing in Worcester.
“As you watch the slideshow, reflect on the time they have been missing from their friends, families and loved ones,” McLaughlin said.
“We want to bring them home,” McLaughlin said. The young people on the list exist between two worlds – missing yet not officially gone. Both aspects of the missing demand attention – solving abduction cases, finding the missing and identifying found human remains.
Once the Lady of the Dunes was identified 50 years after her murder, investigators could start to determine what had happened and how her remains had come to be found in Provincetown. With a name, Ruth Marie Terry, investigators can finally determine what happened to the Tennessee woman who was found murdered so far from her home.
Friend, 10, vanished in 1976
McLaughlin was 9 when she realized people could vanish. She was at the community pool in Lawrence one hot August day in 1976 with her best friend, 10-year-old Angelo “Andy” Puglisi. She decided to go home for lunch, he stayed. She never saw him again.
“Andy was so kind, so sweet, he deserved better,” McLaughlin said. The search for her friend lasted six days, and as an adult, she realized that it was cut short because he was an inner-city child, living in public housing. Too many of the youngsters pictured on the slideshow, she said, are children from distressed, low-income neighborhoods.
In her efforts to learn about what had happened to that boy she played and swam with, McLaughlin created “Have You Seen Andy,” an award-winning documentary that connected her with AnnMarie Mires, director of forensic criminology at Anna Maria College in Paxton.
Mires, who helped identify the remains of several of Massachusetts’ missing children and the remains of people murdered by Whitey Bulger, believes it is a state function to keep track of its missing residents. She is a strong advocate for creating a dedicated “cold case” unit that is available to work with law enforcement agencies across the state.
“We will keep beating this drum,” Mires promised, adding that the issues do not go away. “We will bring light into the darkness.”