On June 28, 2007, a family and a community were forever changed after learning Paige Birgfeld, a Grand Junction mother of three, had disappeared. Now, one year later, her family, friends, and authorities are still looking for answers.
"We never really gave any thought to how long we'd be in Grand Junction," said Frank Birgfeld, Paige's father. "I would tell you, it's very difficult to believe that we would have been there a year later."
Frank reflects on the long year he has spent without his daughter.
"Depressed, despaired, defeated," said Frank Birgfeld. "All those negative words that kind of plunge you down."
Frank and his family came to Grand Junction as soon as they got the call that Paige hadn't returned home. Days later, on July 1, her car was discovered abandoned and on fire in a parking lot near her home.
"As parents we're absolutely crushed," said Frank Birgfeld, back in July 2007. "This is any parent's worst nightmare."
A nightmare that wouldn't go away. Less than a week later, investigators announced they suspected foul play in the disappearance of the 34-year-old. That same week, news broke that Paige lived a double life as an escort.
"It occurred to me that I hadn't cried in a long time, and I learned how to do that," said Frank Birgfeld.
As the days continued to pass without any sign of her, the Abby & Jennifer Recovery Foundation was called in to help. For the rest of the summer, dozens of volunteers and the Birgfeld family endured the heat, looking for any clues that could lead them to Paige. But as resources were stretched thin, the large searches were scaled down.
"I guess that's the only thing at this point," said volunteer Riina Stockemer, last summer. "There aren't any more volunteers coming up and people have to return to their own lives."
Then a potential breakthrough. In October of 2007, after months of investigation, the Mesa County Sheriff's Office said they had a single suspect in the case.
"They're no longer persons that are on our radar screens as persons of interest," said Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey, back in October. "We're down to one suspect and that's Lester Ralph Jones."
Jones, who has a history of domestic violence and spent time in prison, denies having any involvement in the case. Authorities searched Jones' Fruitvale home multiple times, and after sniffing the area where Paige's car was found, dogs led investigators to a business across the street where Jones worked.
"I wish he'd ring me and talk to me about what he knows," said Frank Birgfeld. "It seems like if you don't do that, it almost casts a bad shadow."
Although Jones has been named the sole suspect, authorities have not arrested him. Sheriff Hilkey says as long as investigators continue gathering evidence and Paige remains missing, that will likely stay the same.
"It means you've got to try to bring somebody successfully to justice," said Sheriff Hilkey. "We want to make sure we do that right."
Frank says not knowing what happened to his daughter gives him great pain.
"I think sometimes now, I find myself more angry that some men took it upon themselves to end all the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations of my daughter," said Frank Birgfeld.
But he says he agrees with authorities and says his emotions can't get in the way of how quickly someone is brought to justice.
"I absolutely don't want the District Attorney to bring a case that he doesn't have the full ability to win," said Frank Birgfeld.
Frank says he believes that case hinges on finding Paige, and that's just what he intends to do. He's made Grand Junction his second home.
"This is my life now," said Frank Birgfeld. "I really wish I could get in a different line of work."
While everyone hopes this year will shed more light on the case than the last, Frank says there's only one thing on his mind, exactly one year later.
"We miss her," said Frank Birgfeld.
Authorities say solving the case and finding Paige remains a top priority. Frank says he and his family are at their home in Denver spending time with Paige's three children for the next few weeks.
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