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Finding the missing 

Search veterans offer perspective

Dennis Mahon knows something about missing persons. A decade ago, anguished by the disappearance of a stranger, he moved to California, where for three years he lived on little more than a shoestring while searching for 18-year-old Kristen Modafferi, a missing college student from Charlotte.

Today, he hopes she's alive. "I'm not a dreamer, my feet are on the ground," Mahon says today. "But there are good, legitimate leads that she may still be alive."

Mahon doesn't want to discuss details -- he says he's been asked by folks including the FBI to keep mum to avoid damaging the investigation. He's no longer actively updating a Web site, www.findkristen.com, that pleads for tips. But he has a few tips for anyone missing a child or an adult.

"Never, never hand emotional control of looking for your son over to another party. John Walsh was such a pain in the ass to the Jacksonville Police Department, they ended up giving him his own desk," he says, referencing the founder of America's Most Wanted.

Mahon says police are overwhelmed by the volume of missing-persons reports. "They're famous for saying, 'We're going to turn over every stone.' No they're not ... If you're a waiter or a waitress, and all of the sudden 600 guests come in, you can't take care of them."

Mahon hasn't been involved in the search for Kyle Fleischmann, the 24-year-old man who went missing Nov. 9 after leaving the Buckhead Saloon downtown. He's remained focused on two Kristens: Modafferi and Kristen Smart, a 19-year-old California woman who's been missing since 1996. "You get so emotionally involved in with the families," says Mahon, now back in Charlotte and working in sales. "Just looking for one person, it becomes more than a full-time job."

But Bob Modafferi says the Fleischmann family has sought help from the Kristen Modafferi Foundation. The foundation was started by Joan Petruski, another person who didn't know the Modafferi family before becoming involved in the case.

"There's so many missing adults, and a lot of them don't get the media attention like Kyle Fleischmann or Natalee Holloway," says Petruski, who's helped families search for many missing persons, including Travis Baker, a 19-year-old Taylorsville man who went missing April 16. "... There's so many more underneath that people never hear about."

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