On the dawn of another Mother's Day, Louise Francis is issuing a plea for her son's safe return.
"I want my son to know he can always come home, no matter what," she said. "We all love him and miss him. We need him and want him to come back home to us."
One year has passed since the disappearance of 33-year-old Earnest Edward Francis, but his mother has not lost hope. "I believe my son is alive," she remarked. "I always have."
Earnest Edward Francis, pictured above with his children Miranda, Danielle, Nick, and Destiny, has been missing since May 4, 2011. Local law enforcement officers, search and rescue crews, and volunteers have combed the banks of the Ohio River near the locks and dams in New Martinsville numerous times for traces of the missing father of four. After more than a year, the case remains unsolved.
Authorities learned of Earnest's disappearance on May 4, 2011, and according to the official report he was last seen at 9 p.m. at New Martinsville's Howard Jeffers (Hydro) Drive. He was reportedly wearing a black top, green flannel shirt, black jeans, sandals, and glasses.
"He left my house around 3 p.m. that day to take his kids to an appointment," Louise explained. "After the appointment, he told his wife he was going to get gas and go to his work place." According to reports, Earnest was seen on the station's surveillance video pumping gas at approximately 9 p.m.
"We didn't worry about him at first," his mother explained. "His work had been slow and we figured his boss had found something for him to do."
She added, "And, it wasn't unusual for him to work through the night, especially if he was working on a vehicle or a piece of equipment. But he always found a way to get in touch with me so I'd know he was all right. Even when he was angry, he always checked in." That was a fact that spurred Louise into action when she had not heard from her son for more than a day.
"That Friday, I called his boss, Larry. He said he has not seen him but he had tried repeatedly to reach him," Louise said. "His dad couldn't take it anymore, so he went looking for him."
Earnest's dad found his car parked at the dam around 2 p.m. "It was locked and his keys, billfold, belt, cell phone, and a piece of his necklace were found under the seat," Louise said.
The keys to the car were not there.
Early in the investigation, the New Martinsville Police Department received several leads. "We've had numerous tips," commented NMPD Detective Donnie Harris, who took over the case after the retirement of Sgt. Dave Byers. "But none of them have panned out."
With the passage of time the case has gone cold, but Louise sees both sides of her unfortunate situation. "As a mother I feel for my son, my family, and his children, but I understand that if there are no leads or information, there's nothing to investigate."
In spite of her understanding, the couple has launched their own investigation into the matter. For more than a year, Louise and her husband William have searched for their son, circulating posters bearing his image throughout the area. Before he went missing, Earnest gave his father a motorcycle - a vehicle that's been an essential part of his parents' personal search effort. "When Earnest gave it to him, he made us promise we would never sell it. This past year, William has run the life out of that motorcycle looking for Earnest," Louise explained, noting that even though it no longer runs, they intend to keep it for their son.
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Aside from the fliers, Louise has monitored Earnest's Facebook page since he was reported missing. To date, the page boasts more than 1,128 friends. She also created an online group on the social networking website, to interact with those who follow the case. Louise says she hopes her son will see the page, read the messages, and come home. "I hope he will see that people are praying for him to come home, that people want to meet him, and it will convince him it's time to come home."
Interacting with compassionate friends on Facebook has kept Louise grounded at such a trying time in her life. The social network has allowed her to reconnect with old friends and classmates, as well as make new friends. "There are people from all over the world sharing in this with us by offering support and prayers," she said. "Several of them message me regularly to see how we are holding up and if there's any news yet."
Social media has also enabled Louise to help others who are searching for their loved ones. "I have a friend in Canada who has a missing daughter and I am a part of two missing persons groups to help support others and pray for their loved ones," she explained.
She monitors her personal Facebook page, as well as Earnest's, on a daily basis. "Anyone can post on them, especially if they need prayer or have a missing loved one."
The recent discovery of two bodies in the Ohio River, the case has once again been brought to the forefront, prompting the NMPD to contact the family for additional information. "We were contacted and asked about Earnest's tattoos," his mother said. "It turned out to be someone else. I thank God it wasn't my son, but I am sympathetic to the family of the deceased."
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Not hearing from her son has been the hardest part, Louise commented. "It's killing us."
Surrounded by doubt, with no new leads or information of Earnest's whereabouts, his mother is at peace. "I miss him," she noted. "We were very close and talked almost daily. But someone told me 'If you feel it in your gut, it's true.' I know my son is out there somewhere. I'm just waiting for a sign to prove he's still alive."
Louise said her son seemed troubled in the months leading up to his disappearance. "He was paranoid and exhibited some strange behaviors," she stated, adding her son was unusually forgetful.
A few months later, he was gone.
The circumstances have been hard on his parents, but his four children have been affected as well. "The kids love and miss him. They are always asking me if we've found their daddy yet."
In the event that Earnest does return, Louise has made sure he has a home to go back to. "Out of the goodness of his heart, Larry Rice, Earnest's boss and landlord, has allowed us to leave my son's stuff in the trailer he rented to him," she said. The couple makes sure the yard is mowed and Louise stays there from time to time, just in case her son comes home.
With Mother's Day right around the corner, Louise made a fervent plea for her son to return: "Earnest, if you're reading this, it's time to come home."
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Earnest Francis is five fee, 10 inches tall and weighs approximately 190 pounds. He has blue eyes, sandy red hair, and wears glasses. Francis has three piercings in his left ear and multiple tattoos.
Anyone having any information regarding the whereabouts of Francis is asked to contact Detective Harris at 304-455-9100. "We are still looking for information," he said. "Anyone who has had contact with this subject is asked to contact me."