The mother of missing Washington intern Chandra Levy has joined forces with the families of other missing persons to form a support group for those whose loved ones have vanished under suspicious circumstances.

"The last thirteen weeks have been total torture. We need the support of other people who have been through this and they need to connect to us," Susan Levy said Friday during a press conference announcing the establishment of Wings of Protection.

She co-founded the local grass-roots, non-profit organization with the mother, stepmother and sister of two other missing women.

"There is a tremendous need for this kind of support," Levy said, noting that another woman had just been reported missing in northern California. While Wings of Protection will service the Modesto, Calif., area — the Levy’s home town — Levy said she hoped other communities would establish Wings of Protection chapters.

"There are people all over the United States just like us," said Donna Raley, whose stepdaughter, Dina McCluskey, disappeared in Modesto on Oct. 10, 1999. Raley said she and Levy began meeting several weeks ago, discussing the need that parents in their situations had for information, understanding and support from people who had experienced the same loss.

"If you haven’t been in our shoes, you don’t understand what we’re going through. It is a black hole in your heart and there is no amount of time that is going to make it better," Raley said.

Wings of Protection has established a P.O Box and e-mail address, and a toll-free phone number through the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s office. They will need social workers, police cooperation and volunteers, and Raley appealed to the community to support the effort.

"We hope we can count on the community for a lot of help because we are going to need it," Raley said.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Les Weidman said 900,000 people are reported missing each year, 100,000 under suspicious circumstances. For families with missing loved ones, Weidman said "the worst news is better than no news." Weidman and Modesto Police Chief Roy Wadsen applauded the women's efforts and pledged their support for the group.

Wings of Protection co-founder Debbie Sexton, whose sister Christine Sexton Stuart vanished suspiciously from the Modesto area in April, 1989, said the tragedy had "ravished" her family.

"It is my desire and my crusade to solve the mystery of my sister’s disappearance," she said.