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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Winton Mom Holds Out Hope for Daughter's Return

Winton, CA: There are several things people can do to bring Vanessa Dawn Smith home, her mother believes.  Almost 14 years ago, the girl, then 15, vanished from near her Mercedes Avenue home in Winton. There have been no leads in the disappearance — but Beverly Smith said "it's a very open case."

Beverly Smith hopes people will light a candle and say a prayer for her daughter, as well as donate to the fund that pays for billboards and large-size laminated posters placed on the back of big rig trailers.

"I believe Vanessa is alive with all my heart," Beverly Smith said. "It's time we bring her home. I put her out (on posters) all the time. Our missing children don't have a voice. We (parents) are their voice."

Vanessa Smith disappeared about 7 p.m. May 31, 1997, while on her nightly walk. Her walking stick was found about 200 yards east of her Winton home but no other physical evidence was discovered.  The Merced County Sheriff's Department said Vanessa Smith had no history of running away from home and was close to her family. Her purse with money inside, along with her watch, were left at home.
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said the department's continued hope is to find her safe and sound.  "We vigorously follow every lead given in her disappearance and will continue to do so until she comes home safely," Pazin said.

Sgt. Jeff Coburn of the sheriff's Major Crimes Unit said there's always hope Vanessa Smith will be found and the case will be solved some day.  "It's an open investigation," Coburn said. "It takes time. We still look at possibilities but there are no new leads."

Beverly Smith's friend, Yvonne Smith of Merced, no relation, is the mother of four grown children and has six grandchildren. She has known Beverly Smith for 11 years.  "I sympathize with the family," Yvonne Smith said. "It could be my child. Even though I never met her, I feel like I know her. I want to help in every way I can. "

There are a number of Internet postings and websites about Vanessa Smith, including ones from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Child Quest International and the Doe Network. The Polly Klaas Foundation also has been involved in the case.

Her mother says Vanessa is posted on Facebook with the headline "Help Bring Vanessa Home."

"I know times are hard but if it were anybody's loved one, then what? We get a lot of love, prayers and support our way. It keeps on going," Beverly Smith said.

Smith is planning a fund-raiser for her daughter July 23 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Courthouse Park in Merced. The Smiths need hot dog buns, chips, sodas, paper products and cotton candy. Those wishing to contribute may send checks to the Vanessa Smith Trust Fund at Travis Credit Union, 981 Bellevue Road, Atwater, CA 95301.

At the time of her disappearance, Vanessa had strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes. She has a freckled complexion and a scar on her left ear, along with a birthmark on her right arm stretching from her shoulder to her elbow.  Vanessa, who was 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds when she disappeared, has Duane Syndrome and her right eye drifts to the inside. 

Others missing from Merced County for years include Karen Wright, Pamela Pedro, Paul Armstrong and Steven Lombard.  About 720,000 children a year go missing in the United States. Ninety-six percent are found safe or come home on their own. About 1 percent are found dead.

The governor's office has offered a $50,000 reward for those supplying information that leads to the whereabouts of Vanessa Smith and the arrest of her abductor.

Those with information about Vanessa Smith's disappearance may contact the Merced County Sheriff's Department Major Crimes Unit at (209) 385-7472.


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