Site MapHelpFeedbackExercise 5-7.2
Exercise 5-7.2
(See related pages)

Writing a Missing Person Story > A follow-up missing person story


It's October 1993. A short story printed in your paper last week covered the basics about a 29-year-old Iraqi woman who disappeared in your town. But that story was written based only on an interview with a police sergeant. What about the family? Friends? You have a suspicion there's more to this woman's story than meets the eye. For starters, if she's only been in the country for six months, she probably was in Iraq during the first war in Iraq. Given that the public already knows the basic elements of this story and you don't have any new news to report, you should try a feature style instead of a hard-news approach. You glean the following information and quotes from a series of interviews. Your editor says she can give you space for 600 words. Make 'em count.
  • Twenty-nine-year-old Enan Abo-Khila, who has only been in the United States since March, disappeared a week ago.

  • She is part of a community of 120 or so Iraqi refugees in Erie. They are Shiite Muslims who participated in the 1991 uprising against Saddam, according to Dr. Faisal Fadul, a professor at Penn State-Behrend, who tells you: "All of them were driven or forced to leave their homes and escape to Saudi Arabia, where they stayed in concentration camps until they were able to come to the States."

  • Her family and friends don't know what happened to her after she left her upstairs apartment on Erie's east side sometime between last Thursday and Friday mornings.

  • "There was no forced entry, nothing was broken in and she'd never let anybody into the house that she didn't know," says Det. James Washburn, adding that Erie police have had only one slim lead so far. Someone who saw one of the fliers on Ash Street told a member of the Iraqi community that he had seen the woman. But police have not been able to find that person to ask any questions.

  • Washburn would like anyone with information on Abo-Khila's whereabouts to call Erie Police at 870-1150.

  • He says no one can remember what Abo-Khila was wearing the last time she was seen. Her family believes she was wearing blue jeans and a sweater – white or red. She didn't take her jacket or her passport.

  • Pinpointing the last time she was seen is hard, he said. Her brother Hamed left their apartment early Thursday morning, dropped his brother-in-law off at work, went to school, went to his job as a dishwasher, spent the night at another sister's house and came home early Friday morning. "We're looking at a good 24 to 28 hours that he wasn't home and she could have left," Washburn says.

  • To aid Erie police in their search for Abo-Khila, Erie's immigrant community is posting bright orange fliers with her photo and description on utility poles and trees, at bus stops and in store windows and churches. The fliers, which ask "Have you seen this lady?" are being tacked up mostly in the area between East 6th and Ash, where she lived, and the International Institute, 517 E. 26th, where she walked to attend English language classes.

  • The fliers were suggested by Fadul, who had 1,000 of them printed. Fadul, who escaped from Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in 1979, serves as a translator when Iraqi refugees come to Erie. He calls Abo-Khila's disappearance "a very unexpected event. … I don't think she was lost, simply because she had been taking this street (Ash Street) almost every day for the last six months. There is no way she could lose her way," he said. "I'm told she was homesick for a while and did ask to go back to Iraq but later on she basically liked to stay here. Everything was normal."

  • You talk with Dr. Adly Wilson, a dentist who came to Erie from Egypt a year ago. He tells you the Iraqi refugees lived in a "very hostile environment" before immigrating. "They were living in the desert between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They can't go back to Iraq, because Saddam will kill them, and Saudi Arabia doesn't want any of them. It's literally almost a prison, the camp. … They are homesick, trying hard to learn English, but it is not easy for them."

  • Wilson adds that this group of refugees differs from other immigrants who always dreamed of coming to America: "They never imagined they would leave their country. It was only because of the Gulf War and the scenario that happened. Everyone thought Saddam would fall down. They rised up against him and unfortunately were left alone."

  • Wilson, who says Abo-Khila's family is going through a "very painful" time worrying about her, does not believe that Abo-Khila simply left home on her own. Other than visiting family members, the International Institute and her landlords at the Asia Food Center, the store she lives above at East 6th and Ash, Abo-Khila "had no activities," says Wilson, who saw her as a dental patient about two weeks ago. "Most of the day she is alone."

  • Wilson explains how Eastern culture works. "The feeling that she is not in control of her life can be a very devastating feeling. The men, they can choose whether to stay here. One of the Iraqis went to Pittsburgh. Maybe he has the option of change. This can't be done by a woman. She can't decide to leave a city. If she has a brother or father, which is usually the case, he has the decisions, not her."

  • Abo-Khila's landlords are Lee Ton and his wife, Faye Nguyen, who rent an upstairs apartment to Abo-Khila and her brother. Ton and his wife immigrated to the United States from Vietnam and understand how newcomers can become depressed here. "She has to learn everything over again," Ton said. "She was a legal secretary back home." Ton said his wife and Abo-Khila communicate even though Abo-Khila's English is poor.

  • Nguyen, 33, who says she and Abo-Khila have gone shopping for clothes and groceries together, tells you: "I tell her to come down here if she feels lonely so she doesn't have to be by herself. Don't study all the time. Get out and come down to talk." Nguyen says she encouraged Abo-Khila to keep studying for her driver's permit, which she got two weeks ago. But her homesickness is apparent, Nguyen says, adding that she can sense it when Abo-Khila gets excited simply seeing that some of the food items in their Asian store have labels in the Arabic language; Abo-Khila will pick up a pack of unsweetened coconut or noodles and think about her homeland.

  • If Abo-Khila is lost, "she's probably really scared," says Nguyen, who came to the United States in 1976. She remembers a terrifying day herself when she took the bus to the Adult Learning Center, then on East 21st Street. Because there was a new bus driver, Nguyen didn't know where her stop was, so she rode the bus the entire day. "I got so afraid. I'm sure she's scared out there," she says. "Even if people find her, how can she tell people to get her home?"

  • Ton, Fadul and Wilson say that other immigrants have been meeting and trying to come up with ideas for searching for Abo-Khila. Now, "we want all Americans to help," Ton said.

Harrower, 1eOnline Learning Center

Home > Chapter 5 > Exercise 5-7.2