Quest for an Inquest as a Mother Searches for her Son Abroad

Aeryn Gilleran, a gay man who was living abroad in Vienna while working for the United Nations International Development Organization, disappeared just over a year ago, and his case remains unsolved.
12/10/2008 05:12am ET | Updated November 17, 2011
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Whenever an American is missing abroad, the news cycle can sometimes seem overwhelming. The most notable case, of course, is that of Natalee Holloway, a young American woman who went missing in Aruba, and the search for whom saturated the U.S. and international media for months on end. From profiles of every possible suspect to interviews with Holloway's parents, the coverage of her case was virtually non-stop . . . and, from at least one perspective, rightfully so.

Media coverage can reach millions of people at one time, and potentially move those with information about the missing person to come forward. Answers that investigators cannot find are often unearthed by savvy reporters working to uncover the truth. The media, in many ways, can play as pivotal a role in a missing person search as the police and other investigators themselves.

The case of Aeryn Gilleran, however, has been largely different. Aeryn, a gay man who was living abroad in Vienna while working for the United Nations International Development Organization (UNIDO), disappeared just over a year ago, and his case remains unsolved. And while media outlets have started to slowly pick up on the story, following our original report on his disappearance, there has been no Dateline NBC, 20/20 or even CNN Investigates report on his mysterious disappearance.

That, however, is not stopping his mother, Kathy Gilleran, from undertaking her own one-woman search for her son.

Last week, Kathy flew to Vienna, on the one-year anniversary of Aeryn's disappearance, determined to push forward in her search for answers. She took the flight alone, even though many of her friends advised otherwise, and she criss-crossed the city, holding a vigil for her son and meeting with investigators assigned to the case and members of the Austrian parliament. A gaggle of cameras didn't go with her, but the memory of her son, and the perseverance that only a mother can muster, certainly did.

During her time in Vienna, Kathy called out the cops for their mangled investigation and caught the attention of at least one lawmaker who, at least, seems determined to rise to the occasion and help an American mother find her missing son.

On Friday, I spent an hour on the phone with Kathy Gilleran, who returned from her trip abroad with a palpable sense of hope and an unflappable insistence that she will soldier on until she knows what happened to her gay son.

The detective assigned to Aeryn's case in Vienna, she said, had been misled by a bungled police report that confused facts, distorted circumstances and down-right lied about a missing man. And Kathy, wielding a bright sword of truth that only the strength of a mother can carry around, spent an empowered afternoon making the record right.

Originally, police told Kathy that her son may have killed himself because he was despondent to learn that he was HIV-positive. Kathy produced a recent HIV test showing her son was negative.

Then, they told her they would not allow her to give a DNA sample to use in case a body was found, pointing out that investigators had taken a toothbrush and comb from Aeryn's home. Kathy knew they hadn't, and adamantly insisted that she wanted DNA available in case it became necessary. Minutes after she left the meeting, the Vienna authorities consented.

Finally, she called out Vienna police for not properly searching a nearby river, close to where Aeryn was last seen, despite their earlier statement that they had done just that.

Heaven hath no power like a mother looking for her son.

That power, which Kathy, a former law enforcement officer herself, carried her next to the highest echelons of Austrian political power.

Ewa Dziedzic, a Green Party member of parliament who is a champion for LGBT equality, arranged to meet Kathy during her trip . . . and gave the first significant glimmer of hope.

Dziedzic has indicated she will try to open an official government inquest to find out what happened to Aeryn Gilleran. Now Kathy, who tells me she has recurring dreams about her son, has a new dream and possibility to hold onto.

That inquiry, if opened and pursued, would be a giant step forward in the search for answers. And it should capture the attention of the people of Vienna and the press. And that, in turn, could lead to answers in Kathy's quest for the truth. The quest for this inquest has stretched from upstate New York to a European capital and, just maybe, a very big-hearted member of their parliament.

For too long now, Kathy Gilleran has been left to undertake this search herself, and to dig for clues without competent assistance or aid. And while we may never know just how big a role homophobia played in the inexcusable investigation that ensued, the fact remains that the cameras have largely turned away from the search for a missing American abroad who happened to be gay.

Kathy Gilleran has set up an email account for anyone who may have information about her son's disappearance. The email address is