ORLANDO — People may not think about it much, but a small act that takes just a few minutes — stopping at a blood bank to donate a pint of blood — can save a lot of lives.
“People need to remember there’s a war going on, and we need the blood for our soliders as well,” said Drew Kesse.
Kesse, the president and CEO of K.E.S.S.E. Empowering Safety Strategies & Enterprises of Bradenton, noted that for the past few years, he’s encouraged people to donate blood on May 20, and his family is pleased to know people haven taken the time to do just that.
“Out of anything we’ve ever done, we’ve got a great response to doing this,” Kesse said. “We’ve always given blood. I used to run a blood drive, and people have to remember that it’s needed. We do ask this year every, and it’s been a phenomenal response. Hopefully some of the blood banks will get more donations today.”
Although Drew and his wife Joyce have been happy with the response they’ve gotten after urging people to help save lives by donating blood, today is a difficult, and very painful, day for the family — and it has been every day since Jan. 24, 2006, the day their daughter Jennifer disappeared from her Orlando apartment complex. Jennifer would have turned 30 on May 20. The Kesse family is asking the community to honor her by donating blood.
It’s a day of great sorrow for the family.
“Today is the one day we don’t do anything,” Drew Kesse said. “It’s very hard for us.”
Twenty-four-year-old Jennifer Kesse had just purchased her first home and had taken on a career as a financial analyst when she disappeared. She had spoken to her boyfriend over the phone the night before she went missing. The next day she didn’t show up for a meeting at work or respond to phone calls or texts.
She was reported missing within four hours, and there were no clues as to her whereabouts until two days later, when her black Chevy Malibu was found about a mile from her condominium complex. There was no sign of trauma in the vehicle, or any signs of a struggle.
Jennifer’s purse was never found, and her cell phone and credit cards never got used. Although the FBI came onto the case, it hasn’t been solved.
The family has a Web site, www.FindJenniferkesse.com, that continues to collect tips and information about her case.
In an effort to raise awareness of missing children and cold cases that still need to be solved, Drew Kesse announced in January that he was starting a scholarship in his daughter’s name to benefit students who pursue careers in criminal justice. The announcement was made at the University of Central Florida. Students majoring in criminal justice can apply for the Jennifer Kesse Criminal Justice Endowed Scholarship.
To qualify for the $1,000 scholarship, students must maintain a 3.0 grade point average, be a resident of Florida, and write a 500 word essay on how they would enhance the state’s Missing Persons law.
So far, Drew Kesse said, the scholarship has helped raise awareness of the problem of missing persons, and he hopes that it produces a new generation of young people with skills and savvy who want careers in the field of law enforcement.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re putting money into this, and money is coming in for the fund. In this state, and especially here in Cnetral Florida, we need to be putting trained law enforcement personnel on the streets.”
It’s also an investment, he said, in advanced forensic science techniques that can assist in solving open cases — and help demonstrate that some people mistakenly charged with a crime are innocent.
“The technology is helping to find people and letting them out who shouldn’t be in jail,” he said.
Drew Kesse said the committee overseeing the scholarship fund will meet this summer to begin reviewing applications.
“I don’t know how many we’ve gotten yet,” he said. “We won’t sit down with the committee until July.”
On the Web site, the family writes that “To this day, we believe Jennifer was the victim of a crime – taken through the heinous act of abduction. The total vanishing of Jennifer has lasted until this day and has progressed little towards finding her or the person(s) responsible for this most cruel criminal act. We ask that Jennifer remains the main focus moving forward as usual as we continue desperately to find her. As we have maintained for five years, Jennifer is the victim, our family has been victimized. We know someone knows something.”
Jennifer’s family is urging anyone with information to call Crimeline at 1-800-423-8477 or the FBI at 1-866-838-1153.
On May 30, the A&E Lifetime Channel will profile Jennifer’s case on the new show “Vanished” with Beth Holloway.
The family also posted a message this month about Jennifer’s birthday. It read, “Friday, May 20th, is Jennifer Kesse’s 30th Birthday. Jennifer, we love you, miss you and hope to bring you home soon. Hard to believe how time flies and also reminds us, her family and friends, that time does not stop for anyone or anything.”
The Florida Crime Information Center, which is a part of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, has a Missing Person’s search web site that can be accessed at http://pas.fdle.state.fl.us/pas/person/displayMissingPersonsSearch.
Anyone who visits the web site can type in the name of someone they think might be missing.
“This database contains information about Florida missing persons as reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement by law enforcement agencies throughout the state and authorized for release to the public,” the site notes. “FDLE and the reporting agencies strongly recommend that no citizen take any individual action based on this information. This information is not to be used as a confirmation any missing person report is active.”
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