By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
Texas EquuSearch Founder Tim Miller knows the heartache of losing a family member in a violent crime. In 1984, his daughter, Laura, was abducted and murdered. Her body was found in an area dubbed by the media as the Texas Killing Fields, a rural, 25-acre patch of land between Houston and Galveston along I-45 where the bodies of dozens of young girls and women have been dumped since the 1970s.
Laura Miller, who was 16 at the time, disappeared on Sept. 10, 1984, after she had gone to a gas station near her family’s League City home to use a payphone. Seventeen months later, her remains were found in the Killing Fields.
In August 2000, her father, Tim Miller, having helped in other search and rescues missions, organized a horse-mounted search and recovery organization called Texas EquuSearch. The non-profit is dedicated to helping law enforcement and families locate missing persons or their remains.
Since 2000, Texas EquuSearch has returned more than 400 lost individuals to distraught and bereaved families. In the last six years, Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader has called upon Texas EquuSearch for 22 different searches.
“Each time, Texas EquuSearch has responded quickly, professionally and ethically in every single case, and has furnished equipment that few law enforcement agencies can afford to have – side-scan sonars, ground-penetrating radar, helicopters, planes and just about anything it takes to search for someone,” said Liberty County Sheriff’s Capt. Ken DeFoor in announcing an honor for Miller at the Liberty-Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual gala on Tuesday, Feb. 25.
Texas EquuSearch does not own the equipment, which comes from volunteers, who furnish items out of their own pockets, so that families and law enforcement agencies never incur any additional costs for the searches, DeFoor explained.
“It is my sincere and deep honor and respect, on behalf of the L-D Chamber of Commerce, to recognize Tim Miller for his compassionate community service and to echo his own motto that ‘lost is not alone,'” DeFoor said.
A tearful Miller, humbled by the honor, described the agony he felt as a father when his daughter disappeared.
“I remember every minute of those 17 months. Every time someone would knock on the door or my phone would ring, I literally got heart palpitations, thinking they were bringing me news on Laura,” he said to the L-D Chamber gala guests. “When Laura’s body was found, I remember taking a sigh of relief because at least I knew. I then realized there is one thing worse than having a missing loved one and that is knowing they are deceased and you never got a chance to say goodbye.”
In the last 20 years, Texas EquuSearch has helped in search and recovery operations in 38 states and 10 different countries. Some of the more-publicized cases involved the disappearances of Natalee Holloway and Jessica Cain. Holloway has yet to be recovered, but Cain’s remains were found in a southeast Houston field in 2016.
“We have done a good job … we are not experts. We still have way too many on our website who have never been found,” Miller said. “When I started this 20 years ago, it was different than it is today. I am not saying it’s better now. It’s worse with the crimes and what we see. Many we bring home alive and many have been found deceased.”
As a non-profit, Texas EquuSearch relies on the backing and support of the communities they serve.
“We struggle to figure out how we are going to do this financially. We are going through a crisis right now. Unfortunately, young people don’t want to do a whole lot anymore,” he said. “Our members are getting older and our membership is falling down because younger people don’t want to be involved in things, and we are getting more and more calls.”
Texas EquuSearch now has branches in Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Wichita, Kan., and another is in the works for Birmingham, Ala., Miller said.
“At times, I wonder how we are going to keep going. I just remember that promise I made to Laura – we are going to do what we can do when we can do it,” he said.
He thanked the chamber for the honors bestowed on him at the gala, including a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from U.S. Rep. Brian Babin and recognition from the offices of U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, State Senator Robert Nichols and State Rep. Ernest Bailes. Liberty County Judge Jay Knight presented a declaration making Feb. 25, 2020, as a day set aside to recognize Tim Miller and Texas EquuSearch.
“Thank you all for this. You don’t know what it means. I get choked up,” a tearful Miller said. “Many times, stuff like this means so much more than a $10,000 check, knowing we are making a small change in a troubled world. Maybe what we are doing is worth the pain that goes along with it.”