116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
When Merry Thies first heard that Dessalines Similhomme was looking for his son Jacques in Cedar Rapids, she knew she had to help.
The Waterloo native had never met Jacques Similhomme, or his friends. But on October 7, after her sister told her of a short KWWL report on the search for the 28-year old University of Iowa business student, Thies immediately phoned Similhomme's father.
Similhomme was looking for volunteers to search for Jacques along the Cedar River, where his car was found. Jacques had vanished on September 28, but just handfuls of people knew. University of Iowa officials stayed silent on the matter, choosing not to alert the roughly 30,000 students and 15,000 faculty members on campus.
Police weren't helping much either, leaving Similhomme, at times, alone to find his son.
“How is this happening?” Thies said she asked herself. “How is no one helping this guy?”
She had never aided in a missing person search before, but said she felt drawn to the Similhomme case.
“People come in and out of your life for a reason,” she said. “For some reason the case grabbed me and never let me go.”
After speaking with Dessalines Similhomme, Thies, aided by her fiancé, Robert Wilcox, immediately set out to spread information and recruit volunteers for the search. She called churches and traversed the streets of Cedar Rapids, sticking fliers to doors and windows. No one she met had known about the disappearance and many people were upset over the lack of publicity, she said.
By October 10, Thies had helped bring the search party to its peak of about 25 members. The group split into teams to search the river and surrounding area. And at about 1 p.m., Wilcox's group of four spotted Jacques' weathered body in the shallow area where the Prairie Creek meets the Cedar River.
“I never dreamed we would actually find him,” Thies said. “We were happy in one way, so the family didn't have to wonder anymore. But we were also devastated.”
The lack of police involvement in the search angered her. According to Cedar Rapids police reports, police initially investigated Jacques Similhomme's disappearance, but did not physically aid volunteers in the search. Sgt. Christy Hamblin and Capt. Bernie Walther of the Cedar Rapids police said the department doesn't always have the resources to search for missing adults. Thies can't understand why.
“There needs to be a better system in place for looking for missing adults. Right now, there is no system,” she said.
Since October, Thies has become a full-fledged advocate for the missing. And after doing a short interview for KWWL during the search for Similhomme, she says she has received tips about other families looking for help. Now a member of Peace4theMissing, a social network dedicated to missing people, she continues to monitor cases online.
Thies has kept in touch with Dessalines Similhomme and says they hope to one day form a non-profit organization that could help others find missing loved ones. She said the group would lead awareness campaigns and consist of a core group of on-call searchers.
“I do wish we had the resources to get this off the ground and do this nationwide,” she said.
But until that time comes, she said she'll help searchers however she can.
As Robert Wilcox puts it, “She wants to save the world.”
By Jim Malewitz, Iowa Watch