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For family of Mass. student, no end to the waiting

New Balance running shoes rest on a Boston College floor mat as Luzmila Garcia starts the climb to her son Franco's attic bedroom.

A messy stack of mostly chemistry textbooks is spread across the 21-year-old's desk. Folded T-shirts crowd a laundry basket on the floor.

"He's the kind of boy who doesn't care about material things," says the 50-year-old mother.

But a week after Franco disappeared, his possessions are the few things to which the Boston College junior's parents can cling.

Besides that, there is just hope. Hope that there is some reason their son hasn't come home. Hope that he still will.

When Luzmila and her husband, Jose, woke up Wednesday, they knew time wasn't on their side.

Friends last saw Franco at a Brighton bar in the wee hours of Feb. 22. After band practice, the chemistry major had gone drinking at the popular college hangout Mary Ann's with college friends.

But at closing time, they couldn't find him. A day later, the Garcias returned in a panic from a New York City vacation after they couldn't reach him.

A daylong police search by foot, from the air, and even under water in a reservoir by the college yielded nothing. There was no new activity on Franco's credit card. His 1987 Volvo station wagon was parked where he left it, his clarinet inside.

His cellphone last pinged off a nearby tower around 1:15 a.m. on Feb. 22. Since then, there has been no sign of him. Franco hasn't been home, to his classes, or to his full-time job as a pharmacy technician at CVS.

Standing among her son's belongings, Luzmila toggles between past and present when she speaks of her son a week later.

"He was studying statistics right now," she says, with a nod toward a math book piled among science texts.

Then she looks toward another book in a nook of his bed's headboard, where among titles like "The Great Gatsby" and "The Da Vinci Code" is a thick volume that speaks more to the boy in the 6-foot, 200-pound man.

"He loves Harry Potter," she says.

___

Around 10 a.m., Newton Police Capt. Paul Anastasia calls the Garcias with an update.

State Police are back trawling the depths of Chestnut Hill Reservoir. The body of water is between Cleveland Circle and the campus, where Franco had planned to stay in a friend's dorm the night he disappeared.

His family plans to head to the reservoir soon, including a sister of Luzmila who flew in from Lima, Peru, a day earlier.

More than two decades ago, Luzmila and Jose emigrated from Peru before building a life in the Boston suburbs for their four children. Jose has worked for years as a baker at the same shop. Luzmila has her own little ice cream shop. The family is close, and bears this pain about Franco together.

The evening before, Luzmila went to her 79-year-old mother's home to finally tell her something wasn't right. Family already had cut off many of her TV channels so she couldn't watch news reports about her missing grandson.

But Franco's grandmother had questions — questions his mother couldn't answer.

"Now I'm looking for him," was all Luzmila could say.

___

By 11 a.m. Wednesday, Franco's parents are watching a 19-foot State Police boat cruise the waters by Boston College's stadium.

Motorists who drive by beep to show support as Franco's loved ones hold up missing person posters. Someone who's never met the Garcias hands them coffee and doughnuts. Another stranger gives Luzmila a hug.

"We are desperate," Luzmila tells Anastasia, fearful police may be wrapping up their search.

"We're looking for anything," the police official says. He asks to search the family's home and Franco's parents quickly consent.

State Police Col. Marian McGovern arrives at the scene as a snowfall intensifies.

"I'm going to do everything we can to get your son home," she tells Luzmila.

A little later, authorities announce they're calling off the day's search because of bad weather. But they say they'll be back at the reservoir Friday, and Franco's family draws strength from the news.

Like them, detectives haven't given up.

___

Back home around 2 p.m., a letter waits for Franco's mother.

It is from a stranger who writes in Spanish that she has asked God for Franco's safe return.

Baskets of food also keep showing up on the front porch for a family that barely can think of eating. Jose says the plan for the evening is to get a group together to say the Rosary.

"It's hard for her when it grows dark, when a new day without her son is coming," Jose says of his wife. "But prayer in her heart makes it easier."

Before long, the Garcias' 12-year-old son, Alejandro, arrives home from school. Scrolling on his iPod touch, Alejandro discovers Bruce Springsteen has put Franco's missing-person poster on his Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Franco's friends from Boston College's Symphonic Band made it happen by getting in touch with Springsteen's son, a Boston College senior.

"That's pretty good, because there's more than 2 million people following him," the boy says.

Before long, the Garcias' 9-year-old daughter Bella returns home, too. Her mother traps her in a hug the fourth-grader knows means more on a day like this.

Then the family turns their thoughts to planning a church service and a vigil for later in the week. They also arrange to meet with a private investigator who has offered his services for free.

Tears roll down Luzmila's cheeks as she wonders whom she can trust as this ordeal continues. But friend Genoveva Tavera tells the mother she must stay positive.

"Breathe in. Breathe out," she says. "...We cannot waste our energy thinking bad about other people."

Soon, the investigator arrives and Luzmila starts to speak again about how her son vanished.

She starts the story at the beginning, hoping it all will soon end.

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