Six years later, a father’s search continues
Belfast — Ted Alex is 52 years old and has salt-and-pepper hair, smiling eyes, and a vibrant voice that fills the room. He laughs a lot, too, and his upbeat persona is unexpected, given what he's had to endure.
Ted's son, Jeremy Alex, who lived in Belfast and would have celebrated his 34th birthday on April 8, went missing six years ago this week.
He remains missing to this day. Although the case remains open, and police are still active in their investigation, Ted has little hope of seeing his son alive again. He does, however, hope to find answers and to spare other families the type of pain he has experienced.
Ted, who lives in Portsmouth, N.H., visited Belfast recently to bring attention once more to his son's disappearance. Jeremy was raised in Belfast by his mother, Paula Caswell, and attended Belfast Area High School. He spent summers with his father in Portsmouth.
Jeremy was last seen in Northport on April 24, 2004. He was spotted on the property of Cynthia and James Munkelt on Bay Ridge Road. Cynthia had been a high school teacher of Jeremy's and recognized him as he emerged from the woods behind her home.
According to police reports, Jeremy appeared distraught and was holding a wad of cash in his hands. He told the Munkelts that "bad people" were after him, and he didn't want the Munkelts to call the police. But they did, and when Jeremy heard oncoming sirens, he attempted to flee. James tried to restrain Jeremy, but was unsuccessful.
Jeremy's van was found the next day in a gravel parking lot on Pound Hill Road with his cell phone and keys still inside. But there were no signs of Jeremy. The Maine Warden Service, along with the Waldo County Sheriff's Office and the young man's family and friends, set out on three extensive searches of the Northport woods that Jeremy disappeared into. Each of the searches — in April, May and September of 2004 — turned up nothing.
Ted attributes his son's disappearance to drugs, and said he was surprised by the extent of Jeremy's drug use, as were others who knew him.
"Jeremy was a good kid, a smart kid," Ted said, adding that he believes his son was addicted to drugs and that Jeremy was spending time with people who encouraged his drug use. "But when you surround yourself with people of that caliber, something is bound to happen."
Jeremy had just returned from a snowboarding trip to Sugarloaf a few days before he disappeared, his father said, and he was getting ready to move to a new home in Northport with his girlfriend, Suzanne Forqueran, formerly of Belfast. But according to Ted, Jeremy went on a several-day binge of drug use and partying.
"Some kids have issues, but they slowly get it together. I think Jeremy was on that road, but he just came up short," Ted said.
Many speculated that Jeremy, who has been described as a "free spirit," might have just gotten on a bus and taken off. But things didn't add up, Ted said, and he had a feeling — almost from the beginning — that Jeremy would not be found alive.
It wasn't like his son not to call, Ted said, especially on Father's Day or on Ted's birthday — two days Jeremy always called his father. But those days came and went, and it started to become clear to Ted that there was a point of no return.
"It settled in at different stages," he said. "I had hope, of course. You have to have hope. But then it settled in that he was dead, and I just changed gears. Then it became for me, 'How do you deal with it? What do you do?'"
Ted said he spent many nights on missing persons Web sites and would often encounter cases of children who have been missing since the '60s or '70s.
"You see it happen that when someone loses a child, they just lose their mind, and it engulfs every aspect of their life," Ted said. "I didn't want to be that person. I felt that if this is going to affect me, I'm going to try to do something positive."
In response to his son's disappearance, Ted started the Jeremy Alex fund, an organization aimed at helping at-risk children and teens.
Over the past five years, the fund, which is an endowment of the Portsmouth Rotary Club, has supported numerous endeavors and projects, including student trips abroad and donations of chess sets to fourth-graders at various Portsmouth schools.
One result of the chess sets, Ted said, is that they have helped create a dialogue for families that have used them, bringing them together for game nights, for example.
"It's something we never thought about because we were more interested in the aspect of chess that emphasized learning, consequences, looking ahead at your move and how it's going to affect other people," said Ted. "These are things that Jeremy didn't think about."
Despite the positive things that have come from the Jeremy Alex fund, Ted acknowledges that it doesn't heal the pain of missing Jeremy. He hopes, at the very least, to find closure.
"Someone out there knows something," he said. "I just hope they decide to do the right thing."
Currently there is a $20,000 reward for any information that could lead to finding Jeremy Alex. Anyone with information regarding the case should call Lt. Jason Trundy of the Waldo County Sheriff's Office at 338-2040 or Detective Scott Bryant of the Maine State Police at 624-7076. Ted Alex can also be e-mailed directly at email@example.com.