Balloons carry hope of finding all the missing

Releasing balloons Friday are, from left, Katie Towner of Greece, Brian Sullivan's cousin; father, Daniel, sister, Brittney, and mother, Barbara Sullivan, all of Chili. / Tina Yee/staff photographer

Jul. 9, 2011

Twenty-seven balloons colored yellow, pink, blue, purple and green floated gently toward a radiant blue sky, the crowd squinting into the sun.

Up, up they went. Then disappeared. Just like Brian Sullivan.

Sullivan, then 19, of Chili, was last seen at 5:38 a.m. on July 8, 2007, at the Burger King on Chili Avenue in Gates. His 1995 red Pontiac Sunfire was found nearby, at the end of Lettington Avenue, off Hinchey Road. His bankcard was found locked inside. Several sweeps of the area by law enforcement turned up nothing.

On Friday, Sullivan’s large circle of family and friends held a public awareness rally at the corner of Chili Avenue and Cairn Street, not far from the Burger King and right next to the latest billboard bearing his image, contact information and the words: “Someone Knows Something. Is it you?”

“We’re working in hopes we’re going to find something, that somebody knows something,” said Caroline Pepper, an aunt, from Greece. “This is too painful for the family. With more time, it’s been more painful.”

Standing on a litter-strewn corner, Pepper read a poem titled “Missing.” The names of 20 other missing persons, some from other states, were read and balloons released in their honor. They included Brittanee Drexel, the Gates Chili high school student who went missing in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in April 2009.

Twenty-seven balloons were picked for Sullivan — his current age, 23, plus the four years he’s been unaccounted for. To each string was attached a computer generated photograph of what the 2006 Churchville-Chili high school graduate would look like today.

“It’s so scary not knowing where your loved one is,” said Barbara Sullivan, Brian’s mom. “Everybody is somebody’s child and everybody deserves to be found. Life isn’t the same without him.”

According to the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services, more than 3,500 children and adults in New York were missing in 2010.

“They are the main reason this story stays in the media, their tireless efforts,” Scott Walsh, investigator sergeant with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, said of the Sullivans.

Walsh, who has worked their case from the beginning, was at the rally and released a balloon.

“Their efforts aren’t unusual, but they are extraordinary,” he said. “We tell people never give up. The fact this is taking place, we’ll get tips off this and keep things alive.”

Indeed, Barbara Sullivan, her husband, Daniel, of Chili, and the couple’s two other children, Dan and Brittney, have pursued many options when it comes to finding Brian.

In addition to soliciting help from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the Sullivans registered with a DNA bank that helps identify the remains of those found without any identification.

Last fall, Brian’s case was featured on A&E’s Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal show. In June, a new website — — was launched.

On Friday, supporters wearing special T-shirts stopped cars and handed out fliers.

“People just don’t vanish into thin air,” Brittney Sullivan, 24, said. “He’s out there somewhere and someone knows something, it’s a matter of someone coming forward.”

In the four years he’s been gone, Sullivan has missed birthdays and holidays; the birth of his nephew, Kaleb, now 3; and the death of his grandmother, Margaret Pepper, last year.

“We try to do things to let people know he’s still missing and we’re still looking. We’re not going to stop looking,” Barbara Sullivan said.

Includes reporting by staff reporter Tina Yee.

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