YBOR CITY, Fla. (WFLA) — Dozens of families of missing persons from across the nation gathered in Ybor City to learn about new technology that’s cracking cold cases.
“Hell, in one word, hell.” That’s how the parents of Jennifer Kesse describe the last 17 years.
“You kind of lose who you are,” Jennifer’s father, Drew Kesse, said. “We aren’t who we are.”
“We lost our careers,” he continued. “We lost our home.”
Jennifer vanished in 2006.
Detectives say the 24-year-old, who had roots in the Tampa Bay area, left her condo in Orlando on Jan. 24, 2006, and headed for work.
She hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
“From that point on, life changed,” her father said. “Life has been quite different, and we’ve been trying for 17 years to find our daughter.”
Her face is now frozen in time in photos and in the memory of those who loved her most.
“I love Jennifer with all my heart,” Drew explained. “She’s my little girl.”
“Joyce and I created her,” he continued. “She knows I’m coming for her.”
Now, Jennifer’s parents, Drew and Joyce Kesse, are in Ybor City for “Missing in Florida Day.”
Family members were able to file a new missing persons report, update biometrics, and submit DNA samples for genetic testing, all free of cost.
“You don’t know what you don’t know until the science catches up with what you might have collected 50 years ago in an evidence file and then all of the sudden it clicks like that and things come together,” Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast said.
As for the Kesse family, they say their fight isn’t over. They tell 8 On Your Side they won’t stop until Jennifer is found.
“You can never shut up,” Drew said. “You can never be quiet. You have to be loud, you have to be the squeaky wheel.”
“You have to make people listen.”
But as heartbreaking as Jennifer’s story is, she isn’t the only person missing from Florida.
Hundreds of photos lined a board, each a missing person with a story of their own.
One picture in particular showed 35-year-old Joshua Simmons.
“We called and he said, ‘I’m going to call you back tonight, mom,’ Simmons’ father Sidney Crespo said. “He never called back.”
Detectives say on March 3, 2022, Simmons left his family’s home and checked into a Days Inn.
He checked out the next day and hasn’t been seen or heard from since.
“It’s been terrible,” Crespo said. “It’s been an experience we would not want anyone to have to go through.”
It’s a heartbreaking plea from dozens of families who came to a conference in Ybor City Thursday.
They came in hopes of finding their missing loved one, as new technology cracks cold cases around the nation day by day.
“A lot of times these cases intersect,” said Erin Kimmerle, the Director of the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at the University of South Florida. “On one hand, you have long-term missing persons, you know our unidentified are missing persons, it’s just they’re not in the system that’s why we can’t make a match.”
“The biggest game-changer is genetic genealogy,” she continued. “If you just look at national headlines, every day those cases are being solved across the country.”
Simmons’ family holds hope that one day Joshua will be found too.
“I would want him to hear, ‘Joshua, this is momma.,'” his mother said. “You know we’ve always been there for each other, I need you really really bad baby.”
“Please come home to momma,” she continued.
Today there were plenty of resources at hand Thursday in Ybor City for anyone missing a loved one, but law enforcement stressed the fact that these things can happen any day.
Just call your local police department or sheriff’s office and they can get you the help you need in finding your missing loved one.
Six new digital facial reconstructions were released Thursday.
If you recognize any of these people, you’re being asked to call your local law enforcement or the number on the corresponding poster.