You return to your comfortable home after an uneventful day to discover your beloved 35 year-old family member is nowhere to be found. His wallet, ID, money, keys and cigarettes are right where he kept them and there are no signs of forced entry or foul play. The police are initially intrigued, then baffled, then move on to the next tragedy. This person, whom you love more than you can describe, is somewhere. He might or might not have sufficient food or shelter. Indeed, as horrific as it is unthinkable, he might or might not be alive. You mobilize and, with the help of a phalanx of concerned individuals, pursue every possible avenue. You do everything "right," to no avail. And you do it for five years.
But what's the cut off point at which you shrug and chalk it up as a loss, as if your favorite book fell behind the couch? Of course, there is none. Your love compels you to keep searching, hoping and praying, all while trying to lead a viable life, tending to your other family members and to your career. More than anything, you want him to return immediately, intact and well. A much smaller part of you would settle for an answer, even if it means discovering the worst. Because the netherworld of the missing seemingly stretches on without end and that is an agony unto itself.
So begins 2013 for Sherrill Britton, a high-ranking administrator at Loyola Marymount University, and for Douglas Kellner, the account director at at a prominent ad agency in Miami. It's their respective son and brother, Adam Kellner, who disappeared from Sherrill's Stevenson Ranch, California house near Los Angeles in November 2007. As others enumerate resolutions and battle those pesky 10 pounds, Sherrill and Douglas figure out how to enter their sixth year without Adam.
I first learned of Adam's ongoing disappearance on Mother's Day 2010 when a Facebook friend posted about it and I interviewed Sherrill for the first time shortly thereafter. When the fivepyear anniversary of Adam's disappearance came and went at the holidays, I inquired about doing another interview in the hopes of jump-starting interest in Adam's whereabouts. This time, Douglas handled most of the interview, with Sherrill contributing a deeply chilling story that could be from a horror film but is, unfortunately, now embedded in her life.
What we hope to accomplish: Adam's safe and immediate return. If not that, then to at least discover what happened on an otherwise ordinary fall 2007 day. Please look at Adam's photo. Please watch the family's brief video. Each is located above. If you think you recognize Adam, please contact Detective Abraham with the LA County Sheriffs Department at 323-890-5500. If possible, please photograph the man you think is Adam. This will assist Detective Abraham. Also, we want to illuminate who Adam is and to depict what life is like for his family and for others whose loved ones are still missing.
It's important you know Adam has schizophrenia but according to his family, is quite kind and never violent. He is not paranoid schizophrenic. He had been remarkably stable for years. Both Sherrill and Douglas think misconceptions surrounding schizophrenia impeded the search for Adam from the start. Please don't let such misconceptions continue to be a roadblock. Adam is in no way a threat to your safety, his family says.
One more thing before we proceed with Sherrill's story and Douglas' interview: please don't let your common and wholly justifiable fear that this could happen to your loved one prompt you to freak out or to look away. Let your compassion and intelligence guide you. Adam Kellner is somewhere.
Sherrill's recent and gut-churning discovery of animal bones near her home:
This past September I was out for a walk and decided to venture into an area that was fenced off and adjacent to the surrounding wilderness about a mile from my home. I cut across a field and came upon some bones. There were fairly large pieces of a spine and ribs. I assumed they were from an animal but I couldn't just walk away. I picked up some of the largest pieces, put them in a plastic bag and brought them home. I called my neighbor who is with the LA County Sheriff's Dept. He came down immediately, was puzzled about the fragments and took some pictures to show to colleagues in the coroner's office. He thought they were from an animal but wanted to check. I didn't want to tell Doug about it until I knew for sure. As you can imagine the whole episode was disturbing. You want an answer even if it's the worst possible news. When my neighbor emailed me later that week to say the consensus was that the bones were not human, I still didn't tell Doug until much later since the email had come in on Doug's birthday. I threw the bones into the trash and tried to move on but it's always in the back of my mind that I will get a call from the sheriff's dept. one day telling me they have found his remains. That's what happens when someone has disappeared without a solid clue for over five years.
My interview with Douglas regarding his missing younger brother, Adam:
You're Adam's older brother. By how many years are you older?
I am three and a half years older than Adam, but we were four grades apart. Close enough to be friends, but not really rivals. I am 43-years-old.
Where were you when you discovered Adam was missing? Who told you?
I live in Coral Gables, Florida. I received a phone call from my mother. She had already begun her initial search. It was in that first 24 hours that she called me to let me know that Adam was missing and that she had contacted the police.
What was the last thing Adam said to you before he disappeared? Was that conversation more or less like your others or did anything strike you as unusual?
Over the last several years, my conversations with Adam were fairly short and focused. Adam led a very isolated life with very little human interaction or activity, so he was not a big conversationalist. I would speak with him on a fairly regular basis, usually when I made my weekly call to Mom. Our discussion usually focused on how he was doing and how he was handling living at home, helping around the house, taking care of himself, etc. To be honest, I cannot remember the content of our last conversation before the disappearance, but there was nothing that stuck with me as remarkable, and certainly no hint of things to come.
What are some of your fondest memories of Adam as an adult?
A special time we got to share together was attending the fist KISS reunion tour in Miami in 1996. We were both big fans of the original band since childhood, and I had gotten us VIP tickets in a skybox at the old Miami arena. He was very excited and grateful to be there and I remember feeling very bonded to him in that moment.
Adam was in college when the schizophrenia took hold, meaning each of you had reached young adulthood before he developed his mental illness. What was your relationship like before the schizophrenia? Do you have a funny or significant memory that has become emblematic of that time?
Adam was a very good athlete, very fast and coordinated from an early age. As kids we would play pickup football games on the side of our house with the guys in our neighborhood, most of them older. He was always chosen pretty quickly and was the secret weapon for the team that picked him. If you hadn't seen him before, you were usually left chasing his dust, trying to catch this little fast dude who was running for a touchdown. Adam was a cool kid and was well liked by all. He wasn't braggadocios or obnoxious, he just quietly did it on the field.
What he really excelled at was soccer. He was the star forward and goal scorer for his team from the time he was a little kid playing for our local municipal team at the Coral Gables Youth Center. I played there for years as well, and when I got into high school I had the chance to be an assistant coach on his Under 14s team, which was his last year before going on to high school sports. His team went undefeated that year and won the regional championship. We all were so proud of Adam. He had two goals in that final game, and one of them was the best one I ever saw him make. He was chasing the ball and sprinted to the opposing team's back line with a defender all over him, and at the last second hit a beautiful crossing shot with his right foot, that went over the goalie's head and curved right into the top of the left side of the goal. I guess you could say that before there was Bend It Like Beckham there was Bend it Like Adam. The crowd went crazy and the championship victory and perfect season were assured. During Adam's last two years of eligibility at the Youth Center, he won the most prestigious individual award that the Youth Center bestowed, the Gus Lancaster Award, given to the most outstanding athlete who best exemplified sportsmanship. He was a great athlete, teammate and all around great kid, and the fact that the Youth Center chose to recognize him for others to emulate and look up to made us all very, very proud. He has a beautiful trophy in his room at Mom's house and his name is forever etched onto the plaque that sits in the Youth Center's main trophy case. Now, my kids go over there for gymnastics, summer camp and other activities, and I have taken them by to see his name on it, and I let them know that their Uncle Adam was a very special athlete and person here at the Youth Center.
As we got older our age difference always had us in different stages. When he was in high school, I was in college. I would see him at home on breaks, and he was enjoying the life of a typical high school student, socializing with friends, and having fun. He had a serious girlfriend for a time, and was generally doing what he needed to do to prepare himself for the next stage of life, which was attending a University. He came to visit me at Stetson University one weekend and subsequently decided to apply.
He was accepted and while I would be graduating, I was excited for him to come in and plug into my circle of friends, fraternity, etc. I was cautious about not pushing too hard, and for him to experience college on his own, but I was excited to think I would see him when I would visit. Unbeknownst at the time, his illness really manifested itself during his freshman year, and he was unable to make grades and finish out the year.
In addition to resistance, your family has also encountered kindness and empathy. In what ways have people surprised you since Adam disappeared?
I think you find out who has the emotional capacity and depth of love and constitution to go the distance with you on this journey. You find out who has your back when your chips are truly down. And until you are in a situation like this, you really do not know who those people are in your life.
While I do not wish this circumstance on anyone, my guess is that one would be very surprised to realize who those people are in their own lives. I have a former work colleague, who spent some years with me in Miami, socializing, playing softball and having fun. Several years had passed, and he had moved to LA, but the bond was always strong. When Adam went missing, we spent days and nights searching together on Skid Row, no questions asked. He brought in his cousin to help and even a big friend who was a bouncer, to help us negotiate those tough streets and personalities, where all kinds of things were going on at night. I always considered him a good friend, but I can never repay the kindness and friendship he showed me in those days. I am forever grateful. My mother also had an angel in her office, who was just tireless in helping with our efforts, spending days and days on Skid Row, handing out fliers with my mom, sometimes even going out there by herself. She would not let my mom go through this alone. She and her husband were just amazing.
And I have to also add how touched I was by the humanity of so many who are struggling and homeless on Skid Row. We approached hundreds who thoughtfully looked at our fliers and tried to recollect and help us with information. They had so much to deal with in their own lives, and yet I felt they truly could see the love and truth in our eyes and even if they had no information, wished us well in our search. It was very touching and surprising in a profound and wonderful way.