Some innocence left us then

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 10, 2013

There are news stories that for all your life, you remember where you were when you heard them. Most of us know where we were when we heard that the Challenger exploded or when the news of President Kennedy’s assassination hit the airwaves.

For me, and for many people in this county, the story of Kemberly Ramer’s disappearance is one of those stories. I was sitting at a desk in a newspaper office when I first heard that the Opp teen was missing. It hit hard in the pit of my stomach because I knew the family personally.

I was friends with Kemberly’s parents and I knew her as the beautiful dark-haired child who a few years ago swam with my kids in her aunt and uncle’s pool when we all gathered there for cookouts.

My oldest daughter spent one summer babysitting Kem and her sister while her mother, Sue, worked. I took her to their house in the morning and I picked her up in the afternoon or Sue gave her a ride home.

Those were sweet innocent times we never dreamed would end so sadly. My memory of the Ramer girls is one of two lovely children, laughing and happy, with the promise of their whole lives ahead of them.

I called my daughter the morning I heard about Kemberly. There was shocked silence on the other end of the phone as I’m sure she walked through her own memories of the girl who was now headline news.

Since I worked in the newspaper business, I followed and wrote about what was going on in the search for answers about how the teenager could simply vanish from her father’s home. I talked to both Sue, and Kenny, Kem’s father. Those were some of the hardest conversations I ever had as a reporter and editor.

Burned into my memory is one particular interview I had with them. It was a while after their daughter disappeared and the Opp Police Department held a press conference to update the public. There wasn’t much to report, but afterward I sat down with Kenny and Sue.

You could feel the deep sadness that surrounded them as they begged for anyone who might know something about their daughter to come forward. After we talked, they posed for a picture.

They sat side-by-side holding a teddy bear that belonged to Kemberly. Their faces, the pain in their eyes said all that needed saying. I ran the picture on the front page hoping that if there was someone out there who knew something about Kem, seeing her parents hurting so much might encourage them to talk.

It didn’t.

Over the years, I’ve written other stories about this case. Although she never stopped searching for her child, I watched Sue come to terms with Kem being gone. I was sad when I heard Kenny died without ever knowing what happened to his daughter.

Now I read that there is a new push on to solve the mystery as we approach the 15-year anniversary of Kem’s disappearance. I hope there is a resolution to this case and finally some closure for her family.

As for me, I’ll always remember exactly where I was when I heard that Kemberly Ramer was missing. I think a lot of folks around here feel the same because in many ways a sense of innocence disappeared with her.

It was the shock of knowing this happened in a town where as a kid I road my bike to the library alone, my mother never worrying about my safety. In a seemingly safe place where locking doors was optional, one of our children disappeared without a trace.

In Opp, in Covington County, we lost something of ourselves when Kemberly disappeared, and even if there is at long last a resolution to this case, that sense of lost innocence will remain with us.