The glow from the sticks came from the heart. Many hearts, in fact — more than 100 of them.
A diverse group came out to Frontier Park in Naperville Monday night, united in the hope that Bryce Laspisa will be found safe and unhurt.
The 2012 Naperville Central High School graduate and former city resident vanished in southern California more than a month ago, but those close to him will tell you that nearly every day, there is a new reason to hold onto the conviction that he is still alive.
Just Monday morning, the Facebook page “Find Bryce Laspisa” reported the sighting of a young man with Laspisa’s distinctively red hair who was wearing rumpled clothes and eating free breakfast at an Embassy Suites hotel in Oxnard, Calif. The location is about an hour’s drive from the boat launch access road where the 19-year-old’s Toyota Highlander was found overturned on Aug. 30.
“The hope is definitely out there,” said Frank David, Laspisa’s uncle, who lives in Schererville, Ind.
A 911 call went out after the witness noticed the young redhead, but police weren’t able to get to the inn until about 90 minutes later.
“Of course by that time, he was gone,” said Brian David of Orland Hills, another brother of Bryce’s mom, Karen Laspisa.
The two uncles helped coordinate Monday night’s vigil, one of three held nationwide to lift up a sense of optimism for the missing man, who moved away from Naperville with his family after his graduation from Central. Sporting orange clothing in a nod to Laspisa’s hair, the participants held glow sticks aloft near a large banner that declared, “Light the way home.”
Those who came were drawn for different reasons.
Arne Juntunen, a brother-in-law of Brian David, drove out from Brookfield to attend the vigil. He’d only crossed paths with Bryce and his family at holiday times and other gatherings, but he wanted to support the search.
“He’s a good kid,” Juntunen said, standing at the outer edge of the subdued group as those arriving exchanged hugs and murmurs of encouragement. “A real good kid.”
For Neuqua Valley High School junior Cam Kuharevicz, it was a way to honor a former teammate in a Naperville municipal baseball league.
“He was a really outgoing guy,” said Kuharevicz, 16. “He was one of the best players on our team.”
Debbie O’Connell doesn’t know the Laspisa family, but she’s been focused closely on the disappearance since finding out about it on Facebook.
“I wake up in the morning and check it. I check it at noon, and I check it again at night,” said the 30-year Lisle resident. “I have four kids, two in college and two in high school. I couldn’t not come. I feel for the family.”
O’Connell finds her spirits buoyed by reports of possible sightings and is confident that one of them will bear fruit.
“Every day there’s hope, and so you just have to follow them,” she said.
The theme was continued in remarks offered by Erick Ewaskowitz, lead pastor of Resolution Church in Oswego and a father of three young children. He used the biblical parable from the gospels of Matthew, in which the scripture writer relates a shepherd leaving behind 99 of his 100 sheep to find the one that has gone missing.
“That’s our hope: that we have a shepherd that’s going after the one,” Ewaskowitz said.
He was invited to offer comments by Emily Barenbrugge, who used to babysit for Bryce. Now a mother of three, she has taken a lead role in the local effort to support the search ever since she learned the young man had vanished.
“My initial thought was, ‘I just have to do anything I can to bring him home,” she said.
As the crowd quietly disbanded at the close of the brief vigil, she offered one last hopeful note.
“The next time we do this, it’ll be to celebrate him coming home.”