I first found out about my cousin’s disappearance from a random post one of my Facebook friends shared. It was one of those things people like to share without really thinking about who the subject was, and the prettier they were, the more it was likely to to be noticed. I did a double-take when I really looked at the picture because I realized I knew that missing girl. That girl was my family. I had just seen her at another family member’s birthday party last month. And here was this picture of her saying she was missing. I was dumbfounded that this was happening. This happened to other people, but not to us, and we hoped that perhaps it wasn’t true.
When your loved one is missing and you’re faced with the options, you will pick anything over death. You want them to be missing. You want them to be stupid and careless like I was once when I was her age, not caring about my parents and making rash decisions because I didn’t know any better. We thought maybe she was trafficked. Perhaps she did run away. Anything other than the idea that she was dead. It’s hard to imagine a mother hoping that her daughter is trafficked instead of being dead because the first leaves room for her daughter to be alive, and the other doesn’t. However, when you’re in that situation, you’ll take any shred of hope that you can hold on to.
As the days slipped away and the circumstances of her disappearance came to light, we realized that things did not add up. The way she went missing seemed very suspicious as her mother was the last to see her late Wednesday night. By early Thursday morning, she simply vanished without a trace. She left behind her phone, her money, and everything else that mattered to her. It was as if she never existed. How do you track down a ghost? Someone who simply isn’t there anymore. You start to question if you really even knew them. With each day, we tortured ourselves with the details and re-examined what little we knew over and over until the items themselves didn’t make sense anymore. How do you make sense out of a life that vanishes into thin air? What do you have to hold on to except for the memories?
Then we heard the police pulled a body from the Fox River and we waited for what seemed an eternity for the news. Some of us suspected it was her. Some of us hoped for the best up until the very moment the words escaped the detective’s lips. It was her. There is a strange sense in knowing. In not knowing, you could imagine she could be out there somewhere, alive. In knowing, we knew that her last moments would’ve been hell. We knew she suffered. We knew she was gone. But we also knew that some families never get their loved ones back, and at least we did. The investigation is ongoing, but there is a killer out there and we are looking for them. Who the killer is is anyone’s guess. It could’ve been herself. It could’ve been someone she knew and trusted to leave in the dead of the night without her phone. It could’ve been a stranger that abducted her from her room.
Caitlyn Xiong was a kind and gentle soul who loved children and wanted to be a teacher. She hated bullies and wanted to fight for those who couldn’t fight for themselves. She was an underdog and rooted for people just like her. She was also very strong-willed and independent. Although she and her boyfriend had just broken up a few days prior, her mother said she didn’t think she was suicidal. She wasn’t planning her departure from this earth. She was planning for a future. She had gotten a job so she could save money for a car and attend school. She was on the verge of becoming an adult and reaching her full potential, but that was all taken away from her. She will never fulfill those plans and we will never see them come to fruition because she was taken.
We are looking for a killer. A killer of hopes and dreams. A killer of family relationships and bonds. A killer of possibilities. Because when she was taken, all of these things were also taken. What happens to a life that is unexpectedly stopped? Do the answers also stop? In reality, what we really need to come to terms with is that once we do finally get the truth, it may come with justice, but no comfort, for it will not bring her back.