Missing man: What happened to Owen?

Earlier this month, members of a local church held a "service of remembrance" for a member of the congregation. Their friend, however, may not be dead.

In the days leading up to Owen Young's disappearance, there were no signs that anything was wrong– at least, no signs he allowed those closest to him to see. The facts are sketchy.

The 60-year-old Charlottesville man was last seen on January 2; the next week, his car was found in a parking lot at Dulles airport in Northern Virginia. There was no evidence of foul play.

When asked last week if there are any new leads in Young's disappearance, Albemarle County Detective Sergeant James Bond replied, "I really wish I could say yes." Instead, investigators have found no trace of the missing manat least, under the name Owen C. Young. "We're at a standstill," says Bond.

Charlottesville writer Amy Lemley describes Young as "a really active, plugged-in, networky kind of person." The two knew each other through the Charlottesville chapter of Company of Friends, which hosts monthly networking events for local professionals.

Young, who was a "corporate coach"– someone who works with businesses to increase profits, expand client base, etc.– was also active in the community. He was on the United Way board of directors, coached volleyball, and volunteered with the Rivanna Trails Foundation. By all accounts, he was charismatic– the kind of person who draws others to him easily.

It's that very quality, however, that set Jonathan Coleman, author of Exit the Rainmaker, speculating on possible causes for Young's disappearance. Rainmaker is Coleman's best-selling account of another outwardly successful man, Jay Carsey, who in 1982 abandoned his life as a Maryland college president, leaving everyone who had known him to solve a very painful puzzle.

"One thing that is a shared trait among people who voluntarily disappear," Coleman says, is that "they're very good at dissembling. It partly comes from an inability to confront weakness."

According to Sergeant Bond, Young "was having some financial difficulties." A search of Albemarle County General District Court records reveals that First Family of New York Federal Credit Union in New York has filed suit against Young to collect a $5,800 Visa bill. There may be other creditors as well.

Coleman remarks that for someone like Young, whose livelihood depended on "helping others project a certain image," financial problems "might be greatly magnified, to [the point that] he wouldn't be able to cope."

On the afternoon of Saturday, June 14, a group of Young's friends gathered at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church for a "service of remembrance and appreciation."

Young was active at the church, which he joined in the fall of 2001. By the time he disappeared 18 months later, he was the church's treasurer, served on the board, and was active in fundraising. He also made a number of friends there, chiefly through the "covenant group" he joined.

"If he was in trouble, none of us knew it," pastor David Takahashi Morris said at the service. "The Owen we remember is the Owen who goes forward with us from now on."

Speakers described a man who wanted to make a difference, and proved it by tireless involvement in his church and community. They also described a man who had left his friends worried about his well-being and struggling to come to peace with his absence.

A member of Young's covenant group read a poem by Mark DeWolfe entitled "A Person is a Puzzle," which the group had read the night they wrestled with Young's disappearance. That bewilderment– the fact that we can never really know another person– recurred as friends walked to the front of the sanctuary, lit a votive candle, and described the Owen Young they had known.

One woman recalled how she used to tease him because he always surrounded himself with so much space at church services. "Your bubble's too big," she would say, intentionally sitting down right next to him.

"The view's really good from the balcony," he would whisper in reply, feigning exasperation.

One of the final speakers had an especially puzzling memory; she began by saying she was probably one of the last church members to see him. On the evening of December 30, after a board meeting, they'd gone together to Court Square Tavern– where, she recalled, they'd had "a riotous good time"; he was "a very merry companion." Yet three days later, he was gone.

Young's son and daughter, whom Bond described as "distraught," told him that their father had disappeared once before "back in the sixties, when he was a young man." For Coleman, that was an especially intriguing detail. His subject, Carsey, flirted seriously with running away right before his marriage, but, in the end, chose not to, at that time.

Where is Owen Young? Perhaps the real question is, Who is Owen Young? The case will remain open, Bond says, until Young's whereabouts can be determined.