Hannibal Courier-Post

Missing, but not forgotten

Cindy Young and her granddaughter, Alexandria Alexandria, look at photos of Alexandria's mother, Christina Whittaker on Tuesday. Ten years ago, Whittaker went missing in downtown Hannibal. Her family will hold a benefit Saturday, Nov. 16 to help raise money to hire a private investigator. Young and Alexandria pray every day for Whittaker's safe return.
TREVOR MCDONALD/COURIER-POST
By Hannibal Courier-Post
Posted: Oct. 18, 2019 11:28 am Updated: Oct. 18, 2019 11:52 am

HANNIBAL — A Hannibal mother remains steadfast in their faith that God will bring her daughter back home after she went missing 10 years ago in downtown Hannibal — she plans a benefit to help raise awareness and assist her search efforts.

Cindy Young said her daughter, Christina Whittaker, went missing Nov. 13, 2009, just six months after her granddaughter, Alexandria Johnston, was born. Young has been busy planning a benefit to help raise money to hire a private investigator in Peoria, Ill., where she has searched various times and talked with people who said they had seen her daughter. Young said after hearing from women who tell about meeting Whittaker that she's certain her daughter was the victim of human trafficking. Young hopes the benefit and a new book released Wednesday will help bring Whittaker home and raise awareness about human trafficking and keeping children safe from threats online.

Alexandria was six months old when Whittaker went missing, and she cried for her mother for months — Young remembered that it was difficult to console her. Alexandria shares her grandmother's faith in God and a desire to help others — she said her best friend at Palmyra Middle School is Principal Steven Kerr, and she regular steps up to help students who are being bullied.

Young said her granddaughter's faith has helped her remain strong, and their home is filled with handmade tributes to Whittaker, photo collages and a photo book she made with a teething ring handle that Alexandria cherished when she was a baby.

They both saw Whittaker in their dreams Monday night. Whittaker's absence led to Young developing short-term and long-term memory loss from post-traumatic stress disorder, and Alexandria feels sad during the times when she needs her mother most.

“Any time she gets sick or hurt, all the holidays — Christmas, Thanksgiving, her birthdays — it's always like there's a black cloud over her,” Young said. “She always feels kind of sad, and she can't truly enjoy them all. She's just sad because her mom's not there. It's been really, really hard growing up with her mother missing.”

“Whoever took my mom and trafficked her, I hope they know that they really hurt me and broke my heart all my life,” Johnston said.

Alexandria heard that her mother was a victim of human trafficking, and Young said she doesn't fully understand it yet. But she prays for the same things her grandmother does — that Whittaker has a safe place to sleep and enough to eat and drink. Young always reminds Alexandria that God is watching over her mom.

Young has made several trips to Peoria, Ill. since her daughter disappeared, and she spoke with a victim of human trafficking there who had talked with Whittaker about what happened. She said police in Hannibal and Peoria remain on the case, but she hopes to raise $5,000 during the benefit to hire a private investigator in Peoria to help bring Whittaker home.

On Wednesday, author Steffen Hou released his book, “Moms of the Missing: Living the Nightmare,” which includes stories about missing children including Whittaker and the effects loved ones feel from the loss. And Young said she knows that Whittaker wants be home to see her daughter again.

“That baby meant the world to her,” Young said.

The benefit will begin at noon Saturday, Nov. 16 at American Legion Post 55, featuring speakers like Miss USA 2017 Lauren Ziegler — whose platform was fighting human trafficking and child abuse — and Marianne Asher-Chapman, the executive director of Missouri Missing and mother of a missing daughter, Angie Yarnell. Their presentations will be geared toward educating adults and older children about the dangers of human trafficking and how to keep children safe.

Young emphasized that the event was going to be about happiness and fellowship — not sadness. A children's corner will be set up with activities for youth along with a bounce house and food like pulled pork from the Rebel Pig and chili. Ten lighted lanterns will float to the sky to signify each of the years Whittaker has been missing.

Through it all, faith has brought strength for Young and her loved ones.

“You've got to have God to get through this,” Young said. “I couldn't be here without Him, and I feel sorry for anybody who has to go through something like this without a strong faith — because it will take everything you have to survive and make it,” Young said.

Alexandria shared her hope that God will bring her mom back home.

“I've always wanted for the Lord to just take His hand down, pick Mommy up, lift Him up with her and walk her all the way to our house — on our porch — and then knock on the door, and me and Grandma will answer it,” Johnston said.

Young encouraged anyone who would like to donate items for the benefit raffle or other gifts to call her at 573-406-8439 or search for “Pray for the safe return of Christina Whittaker Young” on Facebook.

tmcdonald@courierpost.com