More than 30 years ago, 21-year-old Richard Hitchcock was out drinking at a Michigan bar when he was asked to leave.
That day in Dec. 1990 was the last time he would ever be seen. Witnesses from that night have said they saw him climb over an 8-foot, barbed wire-topped fence that was meant to prevent access to the Kalamazoo River.
Investigations into the man’s disappearance led police and rescuers to the river. Boat crews, divers, and dog teams searched in and around the water for any signs of Hitchcock.
One of the man’s cousins, then 22-year-old Kellie Yunginger, joined the search with family members. She and her family swept the river’s edge for him for over three weeks, but with no leads, the case went cold.
Yunginger, however, has never stopped looking for her cousin. As a Kalamazoo Metro Transit bus driver, she searches the sea of people she meets each and every day.
But she isn’t just searching for her cousin who disappeared so long ago. Yunginger constantly scans the crowds for others who have been reported missing in the Michigan area and elsewhere.
She has since joined two search and rescue organizations and has helped over 30 different families search for missing persons. If a family asks for her help, Yunginger can rally a team of search and rescue members to spread the word and search on foot apart from law enforcement.
And for many of the cases brought to her, she and her teams are able to locate the missing person alive and well.
Less than one year ago, Yunginger was approached by a family to help locate their 17-year-old daughter who went missing after being dropped off at a hospital.
After driving her normal bus route, Yunginger got off to change her clothes when she spotted a young girl whose face was on the fliers she’d been distributing.
She approached the girl and confirmed that she was the missing teen they’d been searching for. Yunginger took a picture with her and sent it to the girl’s mother, overjoyed that their search had a happy ending.
Of course, Yunginger admits she feel jealous at times, especially when a missing person is found. But while she wishes her cousin’s disappearance wasn’t the reason she started to help, she is glad she can help others avoid the same pain.
No matter what, Yunginger will never give up in the search for Hitchcock, who would now be 49. She posts his story on social media often, and continues to hang fliers and spread the word about his disappearance.
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