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Search starts for long-lost son
He wasn't a bad kid. Douglas "D.J." Becker ran with the wrong crowd and got into drugs, but his family knew he had a good heart.
After all, he was just 16. He had known only poverty, instability and family strife in those years.
It seemed he had plenty of time to turn his life around. But on a fall day in 1992, Becker disappeared off the face of the earth. He was last seen hitchhiking home to Oak Harbor from Anacortes Nov. 25.
His mother, Tammy Waldron, has been trying to find him ever since, trying to get the authorities to take his disappearance seriously in the days before Amber Alerts.
"I just need to know," she said, sobbing. "It's been 14 years. It's really taking a toll on me mentally and physically. He was my first born. He was my only son."
Now Waldron finally has some help. Commander Mike Beech with the Island County Sheriff's Office, a South Whidbey forensic sketch artist and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have joined the search.
Beech said he hopes that two different age-progressed sketches will help find Becker, if he's still living somewhere, perhaps under an assumed name. The drawings, based on photos of 16-year-old Becker, are meant to represent what he might look like now. He will be 30 years old in August.
Last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children created a computer-generated, age-progressed image of Becker for a missing flier.
But Waldron didn't think the handsome, clean-cut man in the photo looked much like her son. So Beech turned to Kathy Parks-Chambers for a more well-rounded approach. Parks-Chambers is a trained, Secret Service-certified and experienced forensic sketch artist who has been volunteering her unique skills to the Sheriff's Office for years.
In creating the drawing, Parks-Chambers takes more subjective factors into account, like the subject's lifestyle and what family members look like.
The resulting drawing shows a more rough-and-tumble Becker, but his mother was pleased.
"It was like the altar boy D.J. and the other was the hard, life-on-the-streets D.J.," she said.
Beech has also re-investigated Becker's disappearance, but hasn't had much luck. He said Becker just seemed to drop off the map.
"There's a good chance there's some wrongdoing involved here somewhere," Beech said, "because I found no mention of him in any database."
Beech thought he caught a break earlier this year when he got a hit someone used Becker's Social Security number in McMinville, Oregon. It turned out, however, that Waldron's ex-husband had tried to use the number fraudulently.
At the time he disappeared, Becker was living with a friend in Anacortes and had even enrolled in Anacortes High School. Beech recently traveled to the state prison in Monroe to talk to the friend, but he didn't learn much.
"D.J. had been crashing on the sofa," Beech said. "His dad told D.J. he had to go."
Becker was last seen hitchhiking just outside Anacortes, apparently on his way to Oak Harbor to make peace with his mother. But his mother and two younger sisters didn't even know he was on his way home.
Waldron said those were the days before the Becca law, which allows parents and schools to seek court-ordered help for truants, runaways and incorrigible kids. As a single mother, she said there was little she could do to keep her son from leaving home, staying out late or doing drugs.
"He could come and go as he pleased," she said. "There were no laws to stop him."
Also, Beech said Becker wanted to stay away from home because Waldron's boyfriend was abusive to him.
At the time, Waldron said her family lived in "a little community" in the Balda Road area. She, her boyfriend and daughters lived next door to her mother and grandmother. Her sister lived down the road. To afford him privacy, Becker lived in a little travel trailer in the yard.
"I did everything I could to make him stay," she said.
Waldron said she first realized that her son was missing when she called Anacortes to talk to him. She reported his disappearance to the Island County Sheriff's Office, but the detective now retired didn't seem to care.
The detective "acted like it was a waste of his ink," she said.
Becker was facing time in juvenile detention after being arrested for a burglary. He and some hungry friends broke into the Help House food bank in Oak Harbor, stole some meat from the freezer and had a late-night barbecue at the waterside park.
Waldron said the detective seemed to think that Becker ran away to avoid lockup.
The trouble is, the teenager never came home and there's no record he showed up anywhere else. He left his wallet, his ID and his personal belongings in his trailer.
Waldron said she was overjoyed when Beech agreed to investigate her son's disappearance.
"He's the only one who ever cared or ever tried to help," she said.
Yet Waldron and Beech are realistic about the chances of finding Becker. Waldron heard rumors that a man killed her son over a drug deal gone bad and she thinks it's possible.
If for some reason Becker doesn't want to see his mother, Waldron said it doesn't make sense that he wouldn't contact either of his sisters. They all had birthdays within four days in each other Aug. 27, 28 and 31 and they used to celebrate with one combined party.
Waldron said he was especially close with his sister Becky Villaluz. "I don't know why he wouldn't want to see her. That's all they had was each other," she said.
Waldron now lives on the Swinomish Reservation, as does her youngest daughter Amber Waldron. Becky lives in Acme.
"I will never quit praying for him," Waldron said. "I will never quit praying for him to come home."
Becker has black hair and brown eyes. He was five-foot-six and weighed 140 pounds in 1992. He is biracial Native American and white.
Anyone with information about D.J. Becker should call Commander Beech at 360-679-7322 or emailMikeB@co.island.wa.us.
You can reach Jessie Stensland at email@example.com or 675-6611.