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Mother Continues to Hold Out Hope Her Missing Son Will Be Found

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LEMMON VALLEY, Washoe County -- Twenty years ago Friday, the search began for a 10-year-old boy who didn't show up at school in Lemmon Valley.

That search has never ended.

May 9 marked the anniversary of the disappearance of Tony Franko.

KOLO News Channel 8 spoke with Tony's mother Liza Ackerman Thursday, and we asked her to revisit the worst moments of her life.

"I missed 20 years of raising my son," she says, "and I don't want anybody to go through what I've been through."

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

She woke him up for school, "...and I said, 'Okay,' and 'Here's your clothes and here's your money.' That's the last time I saw him," Liza recounts. "It is a mystery, because it just seems like he's been taken right off of the face of the Earth, and there were no clues whatsoever."

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. 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," she says. "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.

"Definitely," she answered. "Always have updated photos, fingerprints. All the things that are happening, that have happened in the past 20 years... I wish I'd had them back then so that we could have tried to find him a lot faster."

As you can imagine, Liza says we should always know where our children are, and we should talk with them about stranger danger.

In case someone remembers something from 20 years ago in Lemmon Valley, the Washoe County Sheriff's Office or Secret Witness would be glad to hear from him or her. Some of the older cases *are* being solved.

You can reach Secret Witness at 322-4900.

Copyright 2003 KOLO-TV. All rights reserved.