Jo Clark is living a parent’s nightmare.
Four months ago, her son Eddie Gibson dropped out of university and, without telling anyone, flew from England to Southeast Asia where, only months earlier, he had spent part of a year.
Two weeks later, he e-mailed his frantic mother and said he had to clear his head and figure out what he wanted to do, and traveling through Cambodia was his remedy of choice.
Days later, he e-mailed again saying he was ready to come home and had booked a flight out of Phnom Penh at the end of the month. Happy at the news, his mother and stepfather, Tony Clark, went to the airport on Nov 1, ready to welcome Eddie home.
The 20-year-old never arrived.
“He didn’t come off the aircraft,” Jo Clark said Wednesday. “He never came home.”
What followed was months of desperate phone calls, agonizing correspondence with foreign officials and police and fruitless efforts to find answers from the far side of the world.
“The police in England just don’t have the resources. I had to do a lot of that myself,” she said.
Now the Clarks have taken the only step they feel is left to them: Traveling to Cambodia themselves to find answers to Eddie’s disappearance.
“We just couldn’t get anywhere,” Jo Clark said. “It was so frustrating over there that we decided to come here. You have to make a start somewhere, don’t you? So it makes sense to go back to the place where he was last seen at.
“You can’t sit at home, as a mother, and just carry on as normal when you’re son’s missing.”
The Clarks arrived in Cambodia last week and have been scouring Phnom Penh trying to find news of Eddie’s whereabouts or his last known location. They say checks with the borders showed their son never left the country, or if he did, his departure was never recorded.
“I believe he is here,” she said. “All the facts are pointing that he’s still here.”
They’ve put up posters, met with representatives at the British Embassy, built a Web site (www.
eddiegibson.net) and walked the streets trying to find anyone who has seen Eddie.
But searching an entire country hasn’t been easy.
“There are just so many possibilities,” she said.
Tony Clark said their planned stay of two weeks isn’t nearly long enough.
“You can’t spend enough time on each individual place,” he said. “You need to spend two weeks in Phnom Penh, two weeks in Siem Reap.”
Missing tourists are not a new phenomenon in Cambodia. Even now posters can be seen in various tourist areas asking for information about travelers who have disappeared.
Gary Benham, vice consul of the British Embassy, said the embassy does receive notes from concerned families who have not heard from their loved ones but usually the person eventually turns up.
He said if a person does disappear, however, it can be difficult to trace them.
“If you’ve spoken with the Clarks, you realize just how difficult it is,” he said.
Ministry of Tourism Director-General Kousoum Saroeuth said the ministry does not have statistics on the number of tourists who go missing each year.
“Normally, we don’t hear about it,” he said.
Despite the lack of news about Eddie, the Clarks remain optimistic they will find him alive and well.
“They say no news is good news,” Tony Clark said.
Jo Clark agreed: “You have to remain hopeful because the alternative doesn’t even bear thinking about.”