Before having a balloon release and ceremony to mark the eighth year of searching for Christina Whittaker, her missing daughter, Cindy Young of Hannibal said she is sure Christina is alive.

Before having a balloon release and ceremony to mark the eighth year of searching for Christina Whittaker, her missing daughter, Cindy Young of Hannibal said she is sure Christina is alive.

And she hopes someone will encourage her to at least call her mother at 573-406-8439.

Young's message to her daughter is: “If you see this, it's never too late. I pray for you.”

She added, “Just a phone call would be the best day of my life.”

As family members and friends gathered at the Consumer Ministries church in New London, Young shared her confidence that her daughter is alive, reporting many people have told her Christina was seen in Peoria, Ill., at times at a homeless shelter. Her last report was eight or nine months ago, Young said. “There have been leads to verify she has been in Peoria.”

Christina's daughter, Alexandria, was a baby when her mother disappeared. Now age 8, she lives in Palmyra with her father.

At the ceremony Sunday in New London Alexandria told people she wanted her mother to come home. “I miss her and love her and want her to come home,” she said. Every year at Christmas Alexandria wants her mother to be home, “wrapped in a big box with pink and purple wrapping.”

The people gathered to encourage the family were served a cake with Christina's photo and the words, “When I think of you I cry, but I do not mind. Each tear is a memory and each memory is a smile.”

Young believes that when Christina disappeared at age 29 in downtown Hannibal late on the night of Nov. 13, 2009, she was abducted, because she had earlier called people for rides home and found no one to help her. Her mother was out of town at the time.

Then she disappeared, and her telephone was found on the street. The Hannibal police were notified and according to Young, some officers remain eager to help find her.

Among the people expected at the gathering was 2017 Mrs. USA, Lauren Zeigler of the State of Florida and formerly of Wentzville. Young explained Zeigler's platform is human trafficking and prevention of child abuse.

Human trafficking is what Young believes happened to Christina. “I know she was taken,” Young said. “She's told different ones she is not allowed to see her family or come back to Hannibal. … At that time she was not free.”

Young also believes that Christina is no longer being controlled by whoever abducted her, because she has been in shelters. “Now I think she's out there in survival mode. She has hung out with the homeless. She is just staying where she can.”

Young hopes anyone who knows anything about Christina will contact her, the Hannibal Police Department or another police department.

Reach reporter Bev Darr at bev.darr@courierpost.com.