Four years ago Sunday, a Johnstown police officer came upon a 1998 Saturn burning like a torch in the dead of night on West Montgomery Street.
The car’s doors were closed. Officers had to wait for the flames, fed to high intensity by the vehicle’s fiberglass panels, to die down before they could check inside.
They found nothing.
The owner, Kellisue Ackernecht of West Main Street, had vanished and remains missing to this day. She left behind a daughter, who was 8 at the time, and a husband of nine years, Jayson Ackernecht.
Kellisue Ackernecht was 36 when she disappeared after leaving work as a shift supervisor at Rite Aid in Amsterdam.
Relatives are unsure if she was a victim of foul play or was seeking to escape an allegedly abusive relationship. Johnstown police did not return a phone call for comment as the anniversary nears.
On Sunday, friends and family will remember Kellisue Ackernecht with a vigil. “We hold the vigil every year on the anniversary and we try to do something in the spring when it is warm,” said Kalley Lee, a spokeswoman for Kellisue Ackernecht’s brothers, Tom Kilcullen of Ames and Christopher Clouston of Connecticut.
Lee maintains a website at http://findkellisue.wordpress.com/ to keep Kellisue Ackernecht’s memory alive. Kellisue Ackernecht is also listed on the New York State Missing Persons website and on the federal National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. There is also a $1,000 reward posted for information leading to the exact location of Ackernecht.
The vigil will likely draw about a dozen people, a big drop from the 40 who attended the first vigil, Lee said. “It has fizzled out over the years. The police are so quiet and they never offer statements,” she said. “There is virtually nothing new coming up so it is hard to get the media to do stories about her.”
Hence the vigil and the website. “We will do them until she is found. We will do a memorial if she is found [dead]. If she is alive, we will stop everything and we will let her move on with her life at that point,” Lee said. “The best-case scenario is she is found alive.”
Sunday’s vigil will retrace Ackernecht’s last known movements the night she disappeared. It begins at Rite Aid on Market Street at 9:45 p.m., the time Kelli, as she is known, left work. Participants will sit in their cars for 10 minutes, the time Kelli sat in her car alone, Lee said.
The motorcade will proceed an area of West Montgomery Street, known as Frog Hollow, where the burning car was found.
“At Frog Hollow, we will hold a vigil and pray and that is it. Each one of us will say something in a circle. People who knew Kelli will say a kind word,” Lee said.
Lee said the family is also encouraging people to place a purple ribbon on their car or home in honor of Ackernecht and for domestic violence awareness.