Vigil to raise awareness about missing persons

Janice Smolinski, right, of Cheshire, shields a lighted candle during the annual ‘Night of Hope’ vigil last year in Naugatuck. The event is held to help raise awareness for missing people throughout the United States. This year’s vigil will be held Aug. 26 on the Naugatuck Town Green. The Smolinkski's son, Billy, went missing August 24, 2004 and to this date, has not been found. –RA ARCHIVE


NAUGATUCK — A candlelight vigil on Aug. 26 in Naugatuck will mark eight years that Billy Smolinski has been missing.

Cheshire residents William and Janice Smolinski, Billy’s parents, have been holding a vigil for Billy since he went missing.

Billy, who lived in Waterbury, went missing on Aug. 24, 2004, Janice Smolinski explained. He was preparing to go on vacation and asked his neighbor to feed his dog while he was away. When the neighbor came over to Billy’s house, the key was not where it was supposed to be and Billy’s truck was somewhere on the property that he would never park it.

“The police consider this a homicide, but it is still a missing person case,” Janice Smolinski said.

The Smolinski family has not given up looking for Billy since he disappeared. Throughout the past nearly eight years the family has put up billboards, signs, and flyers.

“The not knowing every day is hard,” Janice Smolinski said.

In the beginning, the vigil was held just for Billy.

However, after learning about how many missing persons there are throughout Connecticut and the United States, the Smolinskis decided to hold the vigil to raise awareness about all the missing people.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as of Dec. 31, 2010, the National Crime Information Center contained 85,820 active missing person records. Juveniles under the age of 18 accounted for 38,505 of the records and 10,248 were for people between the ages of 18 and 20.

Over the years, the vigils began to draw a larger crowd and feature guest speakers who talked about a missing loved one or the work that was being done to help current and future missing persons.

The Smolinskis explained that the vigil provides a place for people who have experienced this type of loss to come together. It also raises awareness for those who have not had anyone missing.

“Nobody is exempt, it could happen to anybody,” William Smolinski said.

The vigil, which is called “Night of Hope,” will feature a candlelight vigil, a butterfly release, a performance by New York Grand Opera’s lead soprano Lucia Palmieri, and a variety of speakers such as Waterbury Police Chief Michael Gugliotti and Cynthia Caron, the president and founder of LostNMissing Inc.

Tentative speakers include Pam Grohs, whose mother Barbara went missing from Thomaston on July 30, and Congressman Chris Murphy, who will speak about Billy’s Law.

According to www.govtrack.us, a website which helps find and follow the progress of legislation in the federal government, Billy’s Law is “a bill to authorize funding for, and increase accessibility to, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, to facilitate data sharing between such system and the National Crime Information Center database of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to provide incentive grants to help facilitate reporting to such systems, and for other purposes.”

The master of ceremonies for the evening will be former mayor and current Burgess Ron San Angelo.

William Smolinski said that he was very grateful that the speakers have chosen to come out to the vigil.

“We are very lucky to have the speakers we have,” William Smolinski said.

The vigil will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 26 on the Town Green. In case of rain, the event will be moved to the Naugatuck Historical Museum, 195 Water St. Families of missing persons are encouraged to attend.