Every time I drive by the old Dutchburn place on Route 118 in Montgomery, I think of someone I’ve never met before.
It’s a small, vacant lot now, an unassuming corn field behind it, the Trout River flowing along at the back of the property. But there used to be an old two-story house there, sitting closer to a curve in the road than it should have. Harry and Mike Dutchburn lived there most of their lives. Well, except for their early years, when they lived across the road in a hillside home.
The brothers had been gone for years, though, when Brianna Maitland’s Oldsmobile was found recklessly backed into the house on the afternoon of March 20, 2004, breaking through the old structure’s siding. Brianna, then 17, was nowhere to be found, though two paychecks were still in the car, and a few belongings were scattered on the ground. No one saw Brianna again after she left work at the Black Lantern Inn in Montgomery the night before at around 11:20 p.m.
That was 15 years ago tonight.
When Brianna was reported missing a few days later, the Vermont State Police issued a press release to spread the word and seek help from the public. I was a little over two months into my five-year stint as editor of the weekly County Courier newspaper, and I remember reading the email like it was yesterday.
At the time, I had a 5-year old son, a 2-year old daughter, and another son about five months away from being born. I was the only editorial staff around when the news came in, so I took the story.
In the days, weeks, and years that followed, I watched Brianna’s parents, Bruce and Kellie, fight their way through heartbreak, tragedy, and enduring hope, never giving up on the idea that their daughter was out there somewhere. As a father of three young children – now all young adults or approaching young adulthood – I struggled to comprehend what the Maitlands were experiencing.
I never came close to that sort of understanding, and I hope I never have to.
To walk along river banks, overturning brush and detritus with the expectation that your child’s body is beneath it. To watch police and detection dogs scour wooded areas to look for remains. To see security footage of a woman in Atlantic City, N.J., who maybe could be her, but never able to get confirmation either way.
It’s an inconceivable level of suffering.
Stepping back from the big picture of it all, putting in the context of quotidian family routine, it’s even harder to think about.
An empty bedroom. A chair at the holiday dinner table. Watching her friends growing up and experiencing things she wouldn’t.
I do think about these things from time to time, though, not because I want to, but because Bruce and Kellie don’t have a choice in the matter. I talked with them, listened to them mourning her absence, watched them not give up. The depth of their pain is far more than any parent should have to endure.
After all they’ve been through, the least I can do is think about it. And then hug my kids a little tighter.
If you’re still out there, Brianna, please come home.
I’ve never met you, but I miss you anyway. And your mom and dad miss you a trillion times more than that.
The Vermont State Police suspect foul play in the disappearance of Brianna Maitland. There is a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the person(s) responsible. The St. Albans Barracks of the Vermont State Police can be reached at (802) 524-5993.