January 23, 2003
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Tim Lopez reported missing a year ago—
Disappearance still mystery

A year ago this week, a Yellow Springs High School senior drove to South Glen Helen and vanished. Since he disappeared on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2002, no evidence has surfaced as to the whereabouts of Tim Lopez.

“I’ve gone days without sleeping trying to figure it out,” Major William Harden of the Greene County Sheriff’s Department said in a recent interview. “We have exhausted all leads.”

Detectives are currently backtracking over old evidence, making sure they “have uncovered everything we possibly could,” Harden said.

A $1,000 reward from the Sheriff’s Department is still being offered for evidence that lead to his whereabouts. People with information may call 937-376-5111.

“Quite a few” Greene County residents came up missing last year, said Harden, who declined to name specific figures, and “Tim is the only one we haven’t found.”

“The case is still open,” said Harden, the lead detective on the case. “The case will remain open until we find Tim.”

A fateful Tuesday

Lopez was last seen leaving Yellow Springs High School around 10 a.m. on Jan. 22. He returned to his home in Clifton, where he spoke via cellphone to his mother, Barbara McQuiston, who was out of town on business. One reason she called, according to police records, was to remind her son to pick up his glasses that day at LensCrafters. It was an ordinary conversation, full of the details of daily life, in a day that would soon turn anything but ordinary.

When Lopez failed to pick up his girlfriend, Beth Burt, that afternoon at Fairborn High School, Burt called Bob Deasy on her cellphone. Burt, who lived with Tim, Deasy and McQuiston in a contemporary River Road home with large windows that looked out over a pastoral landscape, was alarmed at Lopez’s absence, since he had never previously failed to show up.

When Deasy returned home from work, he and Burt searched for Lopez, finding his Dodge Avenger parked next to Grinnell Mill in the South Glen. They set off on foot to try to find him, but darkness halted their search.

At that point, McQuiston contacted the Sheriff’s Department to report her son missing.

John Bryan Park rangers and a Miami Township Fire-Rescue search team took up the effort that night. The following day the same team, joined by regional sheriff deputies and search dogs, scoured Glen Helen, Clifton Gorge and the state park. When the entire area had been searched the following day, the search was called off.

A witness said he had seen a young man fitting Lopez’s description speaking to two men by the side of the road in John Bryan Park that Tuesday, but the witness later proved unreliable.

Investigative trail goes dry

The Sheriff’s Department reported receiving many leads as to Lopez’s whereabouts, but none led anywhere, said Harden, and new leads dried up several months ago.

“A vehicle was all we had to go on,” Harden said of the investigation.

Lopez’s locked car contained his cellphone, wallet and a LensCrafters pickup number.

McQuiston, Deasy and Burt reported to police that Lopez showed no signs of mood change or depression that might indicate suicide, and that they saw no unusual behavior leading up to his disappearance. Rather, they said, he seemed at a good place in his life, having turned around some past problems with marijuana use about the time he met his girlfriend.

The two of them spent all of their time together outside of school, Burt said, working at TJ Maxx several evenings and weekends. They had begun a housecleaning service in order to save money for college.

However, when he disappeared, McQuiston filed a police report about her concerns that her son might have met with foul play due to past drug use.

While rumors linked Lopez with drug dealing and his disappearance to a botched drug deal, neither McQuiston nor Burt believed he sold drugs. Burt said that she never saw Lopez dealing or using drugs. McQuiston questioned why, if her son sold drugs, he never seemed to have any money, and why he and his girlfriend worked at a low-paying job. A thorough search of their home after his disappearance revealed no indication of drug dealing, she said.

Lopez’s disappearance doesn’t fit the pattern of foul play connected with drug dealing, Harden said this month, because when drug dealers kill, they want to send a message.

“They want to make this person an example,” he said. “Sooner or later you will come across a body.”

As to what did happen to Lopez, Harden has no clues at this time. “I don’t know,” he said.

A long year for many

For the past year, Barbara McQuiston has been living a parent’s worst nightmare. While she would like to believe her only child is still alive, she does not.

“I just have my belief that something terrible happened to him,” she said in a recent interview. “There are no signs that he was a runaway. There is no nothing.”

Several months ago, McQuiston, formerly employed at YSI Incorporated as vice president of advanced technology products, sold her Clifton home and moved to an out-of-state location, which she prefers to keep confidential, near her office as a business consultant. She said that she moved to focus on her work and to try to lessen the pain of her son’s absence. Deasy has remained in the Yellow Springs area.

“It was hard to come home and have everything the same, like Tim was going to walk through the door,” McQuiston said. “I thought it would be better to be someplace that is not just like the moment he left.”

While McQuiston has been going through the grieving process, she believes that not knowing what happened to Tim makes grieving even more difficult.

“It’s easier if there’s a funeral, because there’s a point of moving on,” she said. “But in a situation like this, you have to make your own point.”

The holidays were especially difficult, she said, and she spent them with her family.

McQuiston said that she feels grateful to the Yellow Springs community, emphasizing “how much I appreciate everyone’s consideration and thoughtfulness.”

“It will always be a very special place to me,” she said.

As well as communicating her gratitude, McQuiston wanted to alert village parents to learn what they could do now, before an emergency, to help find their own children should they ever disappear. For example, she said, it’s helpful to have a child’s fingerprints on file.

McQuiston said that she understands the difficult balance parents must find between wanting children to feel safe and wanting them to be prepared for the worst.

“It’s difficult to teach them to be smart and savvy and still be involved in a close and caring community,” she said. “But even though Yellow Springs is a beautiful community, it’s not immune. Nowhere is.”

Lopez’s disappearance last year cast a “dark cloud” over the rest of the year at Yellow Springs High School, especially among his peers in the senior class, Principal John Gudgel said.

A former football player, Tim was a member of the high school choir last year and was known as a friendly, good-spirited young man, although one who had few close friends besides his girlfriend.

Following his disappearance, the school held several assemblies to provide information and offer students the opportunity to express themselves. Lopez’s disappearance and the brief disappearance of another high school student “heightened everyone’s general awareness of accountability,” said Gudgel. For instance, students seemed to keep close track of each other, he said.

At the end of the year, students participated in a daylong workshop during which they created murals, poetry and songs to express their feelings about their classmate’s disappearance. In addition, the graduation ceremony included a tribute to Lopez.

Since Lopez’s class graduated last spring, Gudgel said “it’s hard to gauge” how his absence affects students this year. Large murals created by students during the workshop still decorate the school cafeteria, and several “missing” posters remain on the school’s walls.

“He’s still in our hearts,” Gudgel said. “That hasn’t changed.”

Beth Burt has also moved out of state, seeking the healing that a new start might provide, although she remains close to Lopez’s family. While she dropped out of Fairborn High School after he disappeared, she later completed her education through the Internet and recently began taking college classes.

“I’m doing better now than I was in Ohio,” Burt said in a recent interview. “Getting away has been good for me, but it doesn’t mean that I think of him any less.”

In fact, she dreams of Lopez often, then awakes, believing that he is still with her.

“For a few moments I forget he’s gone,” she said. “And then I remember and it happens all over again.”

Burt said that she has never given up hope that Lopez might still be alive, and even being in a new place far away hasn’t erased the sense that her boyfriend might turn up sometime soon.

“I always scan crowds for him,” she said. “I see his face everywhere.”


—Diane Chiddister