May 26, 2006

By MARY AMES

Frontiersman

MAT-SU - Seven years ago, 15-year-old Michael Palmer vanished, leaving few clues behind as to what happened.

At some point every day since, the sadness of not knowing what happened to her son completely overwhelmed Lisa Rearick.

For seven years, Charles Palmer has awakened in the night thinking about his missing son, and he can't sleep at all on birthdays or holidays.

&#8220It's very, very hard,” Palmer said. &#8220I'd like the truth.”

Leonard Wallner, an investigator with the Alaska State Troopers, has tracked leads about Michael's disappearance for seven years, talking to at least 100 people, picking through a mass of rumors, reaching dead ends, and starting again in another direction.

From the time Michael was a baby, his mother called him her shining star, and she can't give up the slim hope he is somehow alive, that he will walk up the driveway someday.

&#8220He'd be 22,” Rearick said. &#8220He always had a smile. He was going to get his driver's license that summer. We have to go on, but there isn't a second of the day he isn't with us.”

School was out and Michael was spending Thursday night at a friend's house on June 3, 1999. He and three friends slipped out and rode their bicycles to a graduation party. At about 4 a.m., the boys started the 9-mile ride home. Michael, the last to pedal down Pittman Road, vanished.

&#8220This time of year, there are parties,” Rearick said. &#8220That was his first party. They all snuck out to go to Timmy Russell's house.”

It was unusual for her son to not call, to not check in. By 11 a.m. Friday, as she was getting ready to go to work at Providence Hospital, Rearick knew something was wrong. She called Dustin and Tommy's house, where Michael was supposed to be. Dustin answered and told her Michael wasn't there, that he rode his bike home during the night.

&#8220I said, ‘I know you are lying to me. What's going on? Where is he?'” Rearick said.

The seven-year nightmare began as Rearick tried to convince troopers and anyone connected that Michael was not missing of his own volition, and needed help.

&#8220The troopers said he was probably off drinking,” she said. &#8220I was screaming hysterically, ‘Something happened to my son. Please, help me. He doesn't run off. If he didn't call, he's hurt.'”

Charles Palmer was out on a boat fishing with relatives when his middle son, Chuckie, called to say Michael was missing, and Palmer headed up to the Valley immediately to join the search for his son.

The family went out searching the area on four-wheelers on their own. In time, others helped, giving their time to find the missing teen.

&#8220Everybody who has helped search for Mike, so many people for so many hours, I don't know how to thank them,” Rearick said. &#8220 We are very lucky to have people who do care.”

Then came rumors and malicious calls.

&#8220We got threats at the house, a bunch of hokey phone calls,” she said. &#8220People threatened my other sons. There are a lot of cruel people, too.”

Charles Palmer did some searching on his own.

&#8220I went out as a friendly father, I found out a lot of information about the whole thing,” Palmer said.

&#8220I was in good standing and then I had to leave the state. I knew if they started threatening me, it would be the last threat they ever made.”

Palmer also hired two private investigators, he said. The first, a woman, left town after she was threatened, he said. Before Palmer ran out of money, he said, the second investigator, a man, found out that Mike might never have left the party. Palmer also heard the rumors, which ranged from details of a murder to kidnapping.

&#8220The stories I heard would make your stomach turn,” he said. &#8220But nobody knows. He was a good kid, he did what other kids did. Mike was a follower, not a leader. Tommy, Dustin and Cameron, that's a (b.s.) story what they said. I've been out there at 2, 3 and 4 a.m. and looked. There's no way they could have seen him. Why take off in the first place? Why leave him?”

Rearick and Palmer pray for their son, as they have at least once a day for seven years, and they pray someone finally will speak up and help solve the puzzle of Michael Palmer's disappearance.

&#8220I'm tired of seven years of pain and agony,” Palmer said. &#8220All I want is justice. As a Christian, I can forgive. This advertisement is the last hope. It's a lot of money for someone on a fixed income.”

Palmer has purchased advertising space in the Frontiersman asking anyone with information to come forward.

Wallner has little evidence in the longest-running open case in his files. He has the borrowed bicycle Michael was riding, and the boy's high-top Converse tennis shoes. But he still pursues leads.

&#8220My goal is to solve this case,” Wallner said.

Wallner spoke to a couple of people just last week, and something new has come to light related to DNA evidence.

&#8220Even now, I'm cautiously optimistic,” Wallner said.

Anyone with information should call the Alaska State Troopers at 745-2131.

Contact Mary Ames at 352-2284 or mary.ames@frontiersman.com.

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