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Saturday event spotlights two local missing women

In an effort to educate the public about missing women in the area, “Help Save The Next Girl” will be at Walmart in South Boston on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. 

The non-profit Virginia-based organization will bring attention to the 2009 disappearance of Hattie Brown and 2012 disappearance of Wendy Dawn Beadles Francis and assist their families in creating more awareness in the community.

It also will provide an opportunity for anyone with information on the disappearances to come forward.

The group will be distributing anonymous tip cards along with flyers and T-shirts.

Both Halifax County women have been missing for several years, Brown for five and Francis for two, but investigators remain unable to determine what may have happened in both disappearances.

The two local families hope that Saturday’s event at Walmart will help lead to a breakthrough in the cases, so they can finally get closure in their loved ones’ disappearances.

If somebody out there knows something, knows where she is or knows what happened, these people need to come forward,” said Francis’ mother, Gayle Snead.

Her daughter disappeared in June 2012, and Snead said, “All we want to know is that she is OK.” 

Snead said clues people may believe are insignificant may be crucial to the case.

Francis was last seen in Campbell County on June 17, 2012, and her father reported her missing July 31.

Snead said the last time she heard from her was the first week in June.

“Wendy has never been gone this long and not contacted any of the family,” Snead said.

By her not calling, Snead said it makes her think something has happened to Francis because it’s not like her not to at least call her father.

She still holds on to the hope her daughter may be still be found alive.

She described Francis as a fun and carefree person who never met a stranger, and her mother doesn’t understand why anyone would want to harm her.

Her daughter’s disappearance has been really hard on the family and has taken a toll on her and Francis’ father. She said every time the phone rings, she thinks it may be her daughter, especially when it’s a number she doesn’t recognize.

“Even though she’s a grown woman, she is still missing. She is still my child,” Snead said.

Family members have gotten together to post flyers everywhere in Halifax and Campbell counties.

Snead said many people are not aware Francis is still missing, and that is why she decided to seek help from “Help Save the Next Girl” in creating more awareness.

The mother of three said she was watching the news and saw where the organization had been helping the family of Alexis Murphy, and she told her ex-sister-in-law that she needed to get in touch with them.

However, the organization ended up getting in touch with her after her husband did a television interview about their missing child.

Snead said she wants to draw as much attention to her daughter as she can in hopes someone who has information will come forward.

“The longer she is gone, the harder it is going to be to find her,” she said. “I think Saturday’s event will bring more media coverage and let everybody in the county know she is still missing, and we have not heard from her. Nobody has seen her. I just think that somebody, somewhere, has seen her.”

The Browns also are experiencing similar turmoil over their missing relative.

“The most stressful and most painful part is the not knowing. It’s really been an emotional rollercoaster for us,” said Diane Brown, sister of Hattie Brown, who also will be the focus of Saturday’s event.

Brown said she just wants some closure and to be able to lay her sister to rest properly if she is no longer alive.

She still holds out a little hope her sister may be found alive, but she also is facing reality and knows there’s a chance she may not be.

 “My feelings are she is no longer with us physically. That’s the reality of it, but you never give up hope. That’s the only thing we cling to, hope, keeping the faith and trying to stay focused and pray that today would be the day we hear some more news, whether it be good or bad, and at the end of the day, if we don’t hear anything, well then I always tell myself there is always tomorrow,” Brown said.

According to surveillance footage, Hattie was last seen on May 16, 2009 at Sheetz gas station in Riverdale accompanied by her nephew.

Approximately two months after her disappearance, the charred remains of Brown’s 2003 Volkswagen Jetta were found on a Virgilina farm.

Hattie’s disappearance has received much media coverage and is a well-known missing persons case throughout the community. 

Her case also was featured on the TV1 show “Find Our Missing.”

All this coverage helped draw the attention of “Help Save The Next Girl” who reached out to help the Browns in their search for Hattie.

 If Hattie’s disappearance wasn’t painful enough, Brown said her family also suffered the disappearance of another family member, James O. Brown, Brown’s cousin, who went missing Thanksgiving Day of 2013. 

He was last seen walking down the street leaving a neighbor’s house to go to his mother’s house.

“Help Save the Next Girl” also plans to highlight information about his disappearance as well on Saturday.

 Brown hopes that Saturday’s event will encourage someone to come forward if they have any information on either her sister’s or cousin’s disappearances.

 She also wants her story to help save other families from going through the same thing.

“Help Save The Next Girl” organization was founded by Gilberte and Dan Harrington in memory of their daughter, Morgan, who was abducted while attending a concert with friends in Roanoke and found brutally murdered 101 days later on a Charlottesville farm.

 The organization was founded to sensitize young women and girls to predatory danger, according to Harrington’s mother.   

With support from the community, “Help Save The Next Girl” has grown to include a national team, a collegiate chapter at Virginia Tech and a Maryland high school chapter at Walkersville High School.

“Help Save The Next Girl” works with many groups who focus on safety and violence prevention. The group has participated actively in Take Back The Night rallies across Virginia to bring awareness to women’s issues on campus. 

Recently, they branched out to a younger demographic with safety presentations created for and presented to the Girl Scouts of America in Southwest Virginia. 

The organization keeps a strong social media presence, and the team gathers and shares information quickly and efficiently through outlets such as Facebook and Twitter. 

“Help Save The Next Girl” utilizes their network of followers to disseminate timely posts to reach a large number of interested people and together create a zone of safety. 

The group’s primary focus is to spread safety information and to prevent future crimes against young women. This can be accomplished through maintaining vigilance and personal awareness, Gilberte Harrington said. 

The organization has three branches which include education and awareness, legislation support and victim outreach.

“It’s too late for Morgan, but we can help save the next girl. I want to save the next girl, and I want to make sure there are no more next girls,” Gilberte said. 

She noted currently 15 to 16 girls are missing in Southwest Virginia alone.