Families of Missing Persons Have Mixed Feelings About Chandra Levy Case

The young Modesto woman who vanished without a trace is all Donna Raley can think about.

But that woman is not Chandra Levy, it's Dena Raley.

Dena is one of 23 missing people from this central California town whose case has yet to make the kind of headlines now being generated by her missing neighbor Chandra.

"Why are the Levys getting all this help, when we can't even — at the one-year anniversary of Dena being missing — I am begging," said Raley, Dena's stepmother.

"I am on the streets begging people to pay attention. Hey guys, she's been gone a year."

Larry Madden lost more than a son when 20-year-old Michael vanished from a fishing trip five years ago.

"Every Superbowl Sunday, no matter where he was at, or where I was at, we'd get together and watch the Superbowl together," he said. "I sure miss those days. I miss them terribly."

Madden says he has lost faith in a system that promises justice for all, but only really helps those with money and political ties.

"In this coverage with the Levy case, somebody made a statement that Chandra Levy was a good person, and she deserved to be looked for," Madden said.

"Well, does that mean that Michael wasn't a good person and didn't deserve to be looked for?"

The Maddens also wonder why interest in Michael's disappearance has virtually disappeared.

"It's unfair, and it's unjust," he said. "It shouldn't be that way, but that's the way it is."

As long as the Levy case remains a big story, the better the chance that tips regarding her disappearance will come in. But once the media loses interest, and with little new evidence, investigators say there's little they can do.

"When the media attention dies down, guess what those kids become? Just another face on a missing child poster," said John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted.

America's Most Wanted has publicized and — in hundreds of cases — helped find missing people.

But host John Walsh, who became an activist after his own son was kidnapped and murdered, agrees that the staying power of most cases is relatively short.

"Unfortunately, we don't seem to care about missing children or missing persons after a month. Everybody gets bored about it, including the media," he said. "Is it fair? It isn't fair."

"And when you saw another case that happened the same week your child went missing getting national attention, you know what? That hurts, and it hurts bad," Walsh added.

Modesto police officer Christy Beffa agrees that media coverage cuts both ways, spreading the word when someone goes missing, but sometimes focusing on one element at the expense of all others.

"Every night when I go to bed, these are the last faces I see... first things I think about in the morning," said Beffa.

It's clear that Chandra's case is being fueled by her relationship with a Congressman. But for parents like Donna Raley, the growing interest in this one case adds insult to injury.

"It's not fair," said Raley. "Our child is just as important to us, as Chandra is to the Levys."

But Madden knows that Chandra's story has brought renewed attention to his own missing son.

"If it took those kinds of circumstances for Michael to get some of what I feel that he deserves, then you know, I'm grateful. I'm really grateful," he said.

"There are a lot more Michaels than there are Chandra Levys."