When the Lytles gather around the dining table for breakfast and supper each day, a place-setting remains empty.
“How can someone that I love disappear just like that?” Jenny Lytle often asks herself, trying not to cry as she comforts her husband and children. “How do you explain to kids why their brother is gone?”
Chris Lytle – a Colville teen and the second-oldest of the Lytle’s eight kids – went missing more than three months ago.
He was last seen on March 19, just a few miles out of town at the Douglas Falls Campground. Chris, who has braces and wears glasses, was dressed in a dark gray hooded sweat shirt and long denim shorts. He was carrying a black messenger bag that he got for his 17th birthday just three days earlier.
The boy’s disappearance has left a huge hole – not just in the Lytle family, but also in the lives of his friends, teachers and the community of Colville. Together, hundreds of people in this northeastern Washington town recently gathered at the high school football field to call attention to Chris’ disappearance and to raise awareness of the thousands of children who have vanished from their families’ lives.
Every day, an average of 2,185 kids are reported missing, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. That’s more than the number of children in the Colville School District. Since its inception in 1984, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s hotline has handled more than 2.1 million calls.
“Having our son, Chris, missing has raised our awareness of the widespread crisis of missing and exploited children in our country,” said Jenny Lytle.
Last month, Chris’ family, friends and others in the community organized a program with speakers and music to educate the public about the plight of missing and exploited children. They displayed posters with photographs of Chris along with signs that said: “Every Child Matters,” “You Are Important,” “We Care.” They also took yellow vinyl ribbon – 18 inches wide and 600 yards long – and created a giant bow that they placed in the middle of the football field. The hundreds of participants crowded onto the football field for a group picture to show their support for Chris and other children.
“The citizens of Colville have not forgotten Chris Lytle,” wrote Sally DeSpain of Colville, an advisory board member of the Family Support Center. “The Lytle family wishes to educate the public about this issue of missing and exploited children as well as keep Chris’ memory alive – with the hope of his return in the near future.”
At first, people thought Chris had run away. But family members later discovered that he left behind money and valuables, including his new portable DVD player and his Magic cards, a collection in which he invested hundreds of dollars. To their knowledge, Chris hasn’t tried to access any bank accounts or contact his friends. “We don’t believe he was a runaway,” said Jenny Lytle. “This is not how runaways behave.”
Besides being a straight-A student who was taking college courses through Running Start, Chris Lytle is an Eagle Scout who also worked at McDonald’s. “It seems safer to consider him a runaway,” said his mom. “The other possibilities, no one wants to entertain.”
Buoyed by the community support, Jenny and J.C. Lytle hope to have more events to spread the word about Chris’ disappearance and to raise awareness.
Meanwhile, the family has sought solace in faith. Whenever their children – who range in age from 20 months to 18 – cry and ask about their brother, their parents try to comfort them by talking about God.
“Heavenly father is taking care of him,” Jenny Lytle tells her kids. “We pray that he will feel our love and God’s love, wherever he is and whatever his situation.”