Twentieth Anniversary Of Missing Reno Boy

By: Brent Boynton
By: Brent Boynton

Twenty years ago today, the search began for a ten-year-old boy who didn't show up at school in Lemmon Valley. That search has never ended.

This is the anniversary of the disappearance of Tony Franko. I talked with Tony's mother, Liza Ackerman, yesterday.

And I asked her to revisit the worst moments of her life.

"I lost 20 years of my life. I don't want any other parent to go through that," Ackerman said.

That's why Liza comes back to a place that brings her painful memories. Twenty years ago today, her ten-year-old son, Tony, had just returned victorious from a 4-H meet.

She woke him up for school, laid out his clothes and said goodbye. That was the last time she - and most of the world - ever saw Tony Franko.

"It's like he was just plucked off the face of the Earth," she said.

Tony didn't show up for his fifth-grade class. Soon his class picture was everywhere.

As the years have passed, nobody's reported a sighting. Nobody's reported a body.

But if Tony's alive . . . he's changed.

Vanished Children's Alliance: Click here to see the latest rendition of Tony Franco

And so experts in missing children have changed his picture. If he's alive today, Tony is now 30.

But is there any hope of that? There is in his mother's heart.

"I'm just hoping that someone just remembers one thing, or a little thing that will give the detectives some lead to go on after all these years," Liza said. "I know the detectives are optimistic about the whole situation, but I feel--in my heart--feel like he's still alive."

Over the years we've had several opportunities to revisit the old neighborhood, and talked to Liza about her child and others.

A mother's hope and love haven't changed - but many things have. Like the way we track missing children. I asked her if things would have been different if the AMBER alert had been around when Tony disappeared.

She said: "Definitely. Always have updated photos, fingerprints. All the things that are happening, that have happened in the past 20 years, I wish I'd had back then so that we could have trie dto find him a lot faster."

A mother's hope and love haven't changed - but many things have. Like the way we track missing children.

But Liza tells us we shouldn't take anything for granted. She says you should always know where your child is. And talk with him or her about stranger danger.

She doesn't want parents to make their children afraid of everybody. But kids should learn that bad things can happen if they go with strangers.

She's a remarkable woman to be able to talk about all this.

What does she think actually happened to Tony?

She said she's afraid to really think about what must have happened. She knows her son may very well be dead, even knowing that would probably bring her some relief.

But she still hangs onto that hope that he may be alive. And she still hopes that someone will see this story and remember something unusual from Lemmon Valley 20 years ago.

If anybody does, the Washoe County Sheriff's Office, Secret Witness or even we here at News Channel 8 would be glad to hear from him or her.

Here are those phone numbers:

* Washoe Sheriff's Office: (775) 328-3320
* Secret Wtiness: (775) 323-4900
* News Channel 8: (775) 858-8880

Some of the older cases *are* being solved. We'll keep a good thought.


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