Liza Ackerman-Stewart, Tony Franko's Mother
RENO, NV - This week as mothers everywhere are reminded of their children's' love, one northern Nevada mother will again relive the worst moments of her life--her son's disappearance.
"I never realized that something terrible like this would ever happen," says Liza Ackerman-Stewart.
She's been caught in every parent's nightmare reliving a day 29 years in the past.
May 9th, 1983 was a day like any other in her household.
She was then living in Lemmon Valley with her 10 year old son, Tony. The day before he had won trophies showing his rabbits and pony at a 4-H show. She left for work with his prizes to show them off to friends.
"The last thing I said to him was I was going to take them in a share them with the girls at the bank."
Tony apparently got himself dressed and left on the short walk to Lemmon Valley Elementary....and disappeared.
Today, the school would call when he failed to show for class. Back then, they didn't.
Liza says she also didn't get the customary call from Tony when he got home from school, but really didn't start to panic until after she got home and it began to get dark.
The sheriff's office was called, but law enforcement's protocol was also different back then. Missing kids were first assumed to be runaways.
And Tony had run away once before, leaving a note and scurrying into the hills after a scolding from his mother about a school assignment, returning hours later.
That did little to calm her fears. "I knew there was a difference between what he'd done earlier and what had happened and it went into the next day and a next day and that's when I realized he's gone."
As the days dragged on to weeks and months, she was left with the worst questions a parent can have and no answers. The first few months were the worst.
"I wanted to end my life because he was gone, but then a little voice said what if he showed up and you're gone."
The anniversary of his disappearance coincides with Mothers Day.
"At work one of the girls received some flowers from, I guess, one of her children for Mother's Day. I saw that and I started crying."
Today she clings to the hope Tony was taken by someone who wanted a child and that he's still out there somewhere. The discovery of Jaycee Dugard 18 years after she was snatched from a South Lake Tahoe bus stop helped refuel that hope.
So, Liza Ackerman-Stewart keeps the vigil, still posting birthday greetings to her son on line in the hope he might be searching and find them.
Tony Franko would be 39 today. She says she would still know him and she hasn't stopped looking or reflecting on that special relationship other families will be celebrating this week.
"Make every day special because these children are precious and you don't know what would happen to them."
Tony Franko's disappearance was the first in a series of missing or murdered children's cases in our area. Each taught some hard lessons and changed the way we react to the report of a missing child.
Today the protocol among local agencies is an immediate massive response using all available resources including the media and the community at large.
It's a policy that assumes the worst while hoping for the best, but not letting the first critical hours pass in inaction.