Twenty years have gone by since the disappearance of 15-year-old Garden City girl Rachel Pratt, but for her mother, Jan Ramirez, the pain is still raw.
She still holds onto the hope in her heart that her daughter will come home one day.
Pratt disappeared Jan. 16, 1995. The case turned 20 years old this month.
“When it first happened, we thought it was a temporary thing,” Ramirez said. “We thought it would never go on year after year after year.”
The police department still calls her often. They give her a call once a year to tell her they are still following up on leads.
Robert Pratt, Rachel’s father, lives in Illinois, and the police send him updates on the case frequently, too.
“We don’t give up hope. This is my daughter we are talking about,” Ramirez said, adding that her eight children were all very close. “The youngest one doesn’t really remember her, but the others do. It’s tragic.”
The distraught mother said she was at work on the day Rachel disappeared, but left early to go back home. She went home at about 2 a.m. instead of 4 a.m. like she usually did.
Rachel’s brother had set a rollaway mattress on fire in the basement. It had been removed but the basement still smelled of smoke. Ramirez walked into the house and asked where Rachel was, saying she hoped she was not sleeping in the basement with the smoke. Rachel’s brother told her he had fallen asleep as he watched “The Swiss Family Robinson” with Rachel.
“When I went downstairs, everything of hers was there except her jacket that I had got her for school,” Ramirez recalled. “She never took her contacts out, her license or even her Social Security card. She took nothing.”
Rachel had changed her clothes because she had been to a band concert that evening. According to her mother, Rachel came back from that concert and Ramirez went to work.
“I told her not to stay up late because she had to work the next day. That’s the last time I saw her,” Ramirez said.
Police investigations indicated that Rachel’s siblings and her stepfather were in the house when she disappeared. There were no signs that indicated she had been abducted.
According to Ramirez, Rachel had a doctor’s appointment planned for that week and she seemed like she was looking forward to it. Rachel was pregnant, and Ramirez said she was probably not even two months along.
“She hadn’t had her first doctor’s appointment, yet. All she had done was go to the health department and have a pregnancy test,” Ramirez said.
The pregnancy had rattled the family. Ramirez said she had forced her daughter to reveal how it had happened, and Rachel gave her the name of a local boy, who was 18 years old at the time, as the person responsible.
“We went to his home and we talked to his dad. His mother was not there, but when we got back to our house his mother called and basically called my daughter a liar, that it wasn’t her son’s responsibility,” Ramirez said. “I took the phone away from my daughter and said my daughter doesn’t need to hear this.”
Rachel recorded a statement with police shortly afterward, according to Ramirez.
“A few weeks after that, the boy went to the police department and wrote his statement, so he didn’t deny it,” Ramirez said, adding that after Rachel went missing, the boyfriend always said he didn’t know anything about the disappearance.
Garden City police Capt. Mike Utz said an aggravated indecent liberties with a child case was reported to the department on Dec. 31, 1994, about two weeks before Rachel disappeared. When she went missing, the case was dropped since she, as the primary witness, was not available.
Ramirez has an issue with the Garden City police department, which has investigated the case for the last 20 years. She believes if the methods used in the first few hours after Pratt was reported missing had been different, the story would have turned out another way.
“They dropped the ball 15 years ago, I can say that,” Ramirez said in a telephone interview. “They did nothing for five days except to say, ‘Oh, she didn’t come home.’”
Ramirez said she felt police did not take the matter seriously because in the past, “that’s how they did things.” She said the real investigation kicked off after she and her husband, Peter Ramirez, went around putting up fliers about the missing girl.
Utz, the investigations division commander, has been involved with the case since a few months after Pratt’s disappearance.
According to the detective, for the last 20 years the department has coordinated their investigation with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia and Washington, D.C.
Utz said his office has followed numerous leads across the nation on possible sightings of Rachel, to agencies that have found unidentified remains, but time and again, they have come to find the sightings or the bodies were not of Rachel.
“We don’t know if she’s alive. We suspect foul play, but there’s nothing definitive to show what happened to her,” he said. “We have talked to the boyfriend on occasion. We cannot rule him out, but we cannot say he is involved because we are still trying to find out if she left on her own accord.”
Utz added: “We know that either a former boyfriend or a former friend, someone out there in this community knows something and we would encourage them, no matter how minute it is they know, to call the police department and ask to speak to a detective.”
Missing person cases usually are solved not by law enforcement alone; community help is considered vital, according to Utz. He acknowledged the department does not believe they have spoken to all of Pratt’s friends, but they have talked to everybody that they knew was associated with her.
On the 20th anniversary of the disappearance, CrimeStoppers doubled the reward, offering to pay up to $2,000 for information leading to the location of Rachel or information leading to the arrest of a person or persons responsible for her disappearance.
An age-progression picture of Rachel recently was released. Utz said such pictures come out occasionally.
“The last one came out five years ago,” he said.
The fliers the department posted on its website show what Rachel might look like today. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children generates the age-progression impressions. The police has fliers on different sites and in the media to refresh people’s minds about the case.
“We keep the updates of the posters and of the age-progression photos,” Utz said. “We keep her pictures up in our offices, a reminder that we still have a missing girl out there from Garden City.”
Anyone with information about the case can contact GCPD detectives. Those who wish to remain anonymous can call CrimeStoppers at 275-7807 or text a tip to TIP411, which is also sponsored by CrimeStoppers.