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A Latter-day Saint congregation’s search for a missing girl

A group of people search for missing person, Noemi Bolivar, who’s been missing since Feb. 11.
Karem Ryker
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Noemi Bolivar’s father frantically searches for his missing daughter every day.

Jose Bolivar drives through the communities around Hollywood, Florida, hoping for a glimpse of a young woman who was brimming with potential when she left home Feb. 11 to take a walk in a nature preserve.

Noemi returned to Florida last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic and graduated remotely from BYU-Idaho in the fall, but her 22nd birthday came and went Monday with no sign of her whereabouts.

So as he has for two weeks now, sometimes wearing a “BYU-Idaho Dad” baseball cap, Jose Bolivar drives on.

He’s not alone, and that is part of the story. The people who assembled to help him and his wife, Marycel, are compelling.

Marycel abruptly left her Pathway class on the night of Feb. 11 when Noemi didn’t come home. Police pinged Noemi’s phone but found nothing at the beach location it returned. They called off their search after midnight.

The next morning, a Friday, members of the Fort Lauderdale Florida Stake took action. Instantly, they organized in two customary ways, based on their church callings and their experiences with hurricane response.

The Primary chorister in the Hollywood Ward, Karem Ryker, launched a Facebook push to mobilize searchers, and the first search party of a dozen people went out at noon. A second search in the evening doubled in size.

That night, and every night since, a collection of members met to coordinate.

For example, every day, Lani Netane calls hospitals, mortuaries and homeless shelters. She is preparing an application to add Noemi to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.

Ryker coordinates media coverage and does interviews on behalf of the family. Her husband coordinates with a private investigator and police detectives.

Two other women handle social media. A couple coordinates the maps for the searches. One man is gathering surveillance footage from local businesses.

Community donors have provided, at no cost, 13,000 fliers with Noemi’s photo and information. The Relief Societies of the Hollywood and Hollywood Hills wards are providing meals and groceries.

Voluntarios estamos aqui

Posted by Viviana Alvarez on Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Jose Bolivar has not worked since his daughter’s disappearance but has been reluctant to accept money. J.T. Ryker and Ben Mena launched a PayPal account to provide gas money for his drives and funding for potential counseling or health expenses for Noemi. (You can donate here.)

On Saturday, the Hollywood Ward meetinghouse grounds served as the launching point for a search by about 200 people. It isn’t far from the Anne Kolb Nature Center where Noemi, who earned her degree in plant and wildlife ecology, intended to walk. Family, friends, volunteers from as far as three hours away, local law enforcement and media gathered to look for Noemi and increase the exposure of her missing persons case, Fort Lauderdale Stake President Scott Richards said.

“We’re hoping and praying for the best and hoping for her safe return,” Richards said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “She’s one of the choice, young women of our stake. Along with her family, we miss her dearly.”

Karem Ryker said the small, impromptu team that coordinates together each night is largely composed of leaders from the two wards in the meetinghouse.

“What’s been amazing about this is that people want to serve so much,” she said. “Sometimes they lack guidance, so having a small team of people to coordinate has helped. People are really self-sufficient. You just have to give them tasks. We’ve seen the spirit of God touch their hearts.”

The need is large because the police department is small. There is no evidence of a crime, so the team can’t yet accommodate people who want to make donations for tips leading to Noemi’s return.

Still, there are some universal takeaways, Karem Ryker said. One is what a group of volunteers can do to make a difference.

“If this ever happened again, which we hope it doesn’t, one question is how can you mobilize your community to bring somebody home, especially when the authorities aren’t helping? So I think it would be wonderful for other members to see how if a ward like ours, in a low-income area, if we can do it, and if we can mobilize all of these resources, you can too.”

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