Stephanie Gottschalck hasn’t contacted friends or family since Friday
“Just a phone call,” said Jan Gottschalck, Stephanie’s mother, as if she was speaking directly to her daughter. “And you don’t even need to call home. Just call someone you trust so we know you are all right.”
Stephanie, a 15-year-old Glenwood Springs High School sophomore, disappeared five days ago. Neither her parents nor anyone close to the family has heard from her.
Jan said the last time she saw her daughter was Friday afternoon when Stephanie stopped by the Roaring Fork School District office, where Jan works.
“She asked me if it was OK if she spent the night at a girlfriend’s house,” Jan said.
Jan consented, but when she called the girlfriend’s house around 5:30 p.m. that evening, Stephanie wasn’t there, and neither the parents nor the girlfriend knew anything about Stephanie spending the night.
Since then, Jan and Stephanie’s father, Charlie, have grown increasingly concerned about their daughter.
“She needs to know she’s not in trouble,” said Charlie, tears welling in his eyes. “We love her and just want to know she is OK.”
Getting home safe
Jan said once she realized Stephanie was not with her friend, she contacted the Garfield County Sheriff’s office. The case is now being worked on with assistance from the Glenwood Springs Police Department.
“The entire reason law enforcement gets involved in cases like this is to reunite families and make sure everyone gets home safe,” said Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson.
The couple also called a long list of Stephanie’s friends, teachers and anyone who might have seen her and could help them make sure she is safe. That includes Stephanie’s second grade teacher, Karen Shaver, and Sher Kerschen, Stephanie’s fifth grade teacher.
The family has also put posters up around town with Stephanie’s photo and contact information.
“We’ve had numerous leads,” Charlie said. “People have seen her in different places around Glenwood. But we still haven’t heard from her.”
“For a parent not to know for this long…” said Jan, her sentence trailing off as the tears came.
“It’s not her fault’
The Gottschalcks believe Stephanie wasn’t abducted, but rather left home and lost contact on her own will.
They said they wanted to speak to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent to communicate with their daughter – and with anyone who may know where she is.
Tuesday morning, Jan sat at the family dining room table, while Charlie leaning on the kitchen counter behind her. The family has set up a kind of vigil for Stephanie, with a glowing candle, Stephanie’s yearbook photo and a stuffed basketball.
“Stephanie loves basketball,” said Jan.
Jan said the family’s pastor, Jeff Carlson from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, has been “such a sense of strength,” she said. “I know I couldn’t get through this without Pastor Jeff and God.”
Carlson stopped by the Gottschalcks’ house in West Glenwood to check in with them Tuesday.
“I think it’s important to let Stephanie know that whatever is happening, it’s not her fault,” Carlson said. “She needs to know that if she’s having any problems with her family, she’s not the only one who has to change. Her whole family acknowledges their part in Stephanie not being here now.”
“Have a game plan’
Jan said she and Charlie were unprepared to deal with a child running away.
“I would tell parents to sit down with your children right now and designate a trusted adult the children can contact if they’re ever in a situation like this and don’t want to call home. Have a game plan. If there’s anything about this I can learn, it’s that we didn’t have a game plan,” she said.
“And it’s OK for Stephanie to call home and say, “I can’t stand to be with you right now, but I want you to know I’m OK,'” said Carlson.
Carlson also said that Stephanie might be staying with friends of hers that her parents don’t know.
“Those people might think they’re genuinely helping Stephanie,” he said. “They may think they’re helping a bad situation, and being heroic.”
“I just want to hear her voice,” said Jan. “We love her and we miss her. You can’t imagine.”
Stephanie – or anyone with knowledge of her whereabouts – may call any one of the following numbers:
– Sher Kerschen (see note)
– Karen Shaver: 945-9397
– Gottschalck home: 928-0854
– Glenwood Springs Post Independent: 945-8515 ext. 518
– Garfield County Sheriff: 945-0453
– Glenwood Springs Police: 384-6500