The future was bright for Charlotte resident Kristen Modafferi on June 1, 1997. It was her 18th birthday and she was flying to San Francisco to spend a summer exploring the city. She would begin photography classes at the University of California Berkeley on June 24.
As a member of the first class of Park Scholars at N.C. State University, she had completed her freshman year as an industrial design major and had been encouraged to plan an enriching summer to share with her peers at the start of her sophomore year.
But the life experiences the Providence High School graduate had hoped for never came to be. On June 23, Kristen left her shift at a coffee house in the financial district of downtown San Francisco and disappeared.
To the heartbreak of her parents, Bob and Debbie Modafferi, her case remains unsolved.
Because Kristen was 18, law enforcement classified her as an endangered/at-risk adult, so child-search organizations such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were unable to feature her in their notices.
There were also no federal or state funds to assist the Modafferis in their search, and social networking was years away.
With no significant clues, a remembrance mass was held for her at St. Matthew Catholic Church in June 1998.
Inspired by the crisis, Joan Petruski-Scanlon, a neighbor of the Modafferis in Providence Plantation, asked them if she could help raise awareness and funds to maintain the search.
What began as a kind gesture evolved into a nonprofit organization that helps search for missing adults nationwide.
In 1999, Petruski-Scanlon launched The Kristen Foundation to provide financial and informational assistance to family members of missing persons older than 18 and designated as endangered/at-risk by law enforcement.
To date, the organization has provided emotional support and assistance to more than 100 families in their searches for loved ones. Petruski-Scanlon, who works strictly as a volunteer, is determined to reach more.
"I have many goals for the foundation, most importantly to create a base in all states, which we have started to do. All information and financial assistance would still come out of Charlotte, but others will run the foundation and help families in their state," says the 60-year-old mother of two grown daughters.
More than $200,000 has been raised so far through the annual Crystal Ball Dinner Dance and Golf Classic events as well as the sale of cookbooks, DNA Legacy Testing Kits and memorial bracelets.
"The monies are used in many ways. We provide fliers, billboards, private investigators, search teams and travel expenses for family members. We also buy equipment for search teams and sheriffs' departments," says Petruski-Scanlon. "Where we cannot always bring a loved one home alive, we have been successful in bringing closure to many families."
She also educates young adults on effective personal safety and security, gives speeches on what to do if a loved goes missing and lobbies national, state and local leaders to provide strategies for effective investigations.
Petruski-Scanlon stresses that the foundation needs help in many areas, particularly in getting information about the foundation out to the public, assisting with fundraisers and promoting the sale of the "Expect Miracles" bracelets. She would appreciate donations or help from anyone interested in getting behind her cause.
Petruski-Scanlon remains close to the Modafferis and says, "They go about their lives as we all do, but with a place in their hearts missing."
As the result of lobbying by the Modafferis, Kristen's Law was passed in 2000 to help families searching for missing adults. This law helped establish the National Center for Missing Adults, which provides funding for searches.
On their website dedicated to finding Kristen, modlink.com, the Modafferis say they fear Kristen could still be at risk, unable to contact her family or friends, and they say, "...we cling to the hope that she is still alive and we remain very proactive in the search to find her."
With the 15th anniversary of Kristen's disappearance approaching, Petruski-Scanlon says she will be doing billboards and other media in California to keep Kristen's profile in the public eye.
"I will try to never let Kristen be forgotten. She was here for only a short time - a beautiful, bright young lady. The Kristen Foundation is her legacy. So many families have been helped through her, and we would love for her to come home."