Mother appeals for help in search for missing woman

By Cindy Yurth
Tséyi' Bureau

CHINLE, March 8, 2012

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(Courtesy photos)

TOP: Missing person Jessie Ronhock

BOTTOM: Her vehicle: 2000 Jeep Cherokee, White. MA Registration License Plate 66JX98.

Jessie Ronhock was having a rough semester.

The fresh-faced, auburn-haired nursing student was struggling in one of her classes at Elmira College in upstate New York. Then one of her patients fell and was injured while under her care.

She had slacked off on her daily exercise routine after having all four wisdom teeth pulled, and was worried she wouldn't pass the rigorous monthly physical test to stay in ROTC.

"The kind of things," said her mother, Terry Ronhock, "that might make you take a trip to clear your head."

And that is exactly what Jessie seems to have done. The problem is, she never came back.

The 21-year-old student, described by her mother as kind-hearted but street-savvy, sent a letter to her family in Massachusetts from Williams, Ariz., which they received Jan. 22. By then, she had already dropped off the face of the earth.

In Jessie's letter, "she said she needed some time to think," Terry Ronhock said. "She said she wanted to go to the Grand Canyon and be part of the beauty of the land, to try to collect herself."

She promised her family she would be back in two weeks.

According to her debit card record, Jessie took the long way, driving her white 2000 Jeep Cherokee Sport first south to Chattahoochee, Fla., where she stayed in a campground then west to Baytown, Texas, before heading to Arizona.

"All I can think of," said her mother, "is that maybe she wanted to take a southern route so it would be warmer."

Jessie's presence is verified at the Day's Inn in Williams, where a security camera recorded her. She appears to be alone, although she made the reservation for two people - probably for security reasons, says her mother.

On Jan. 18, she checked out of the motel, mailed the letter, and presumably headed to the Grand Canyon, but she didn't stay long.

Her next debit card purchases are a tank of gas in Cameron at 2 p.m., then another one at the Chevron in Kayenta at 7:04 p.m. That time is painfully etched in Terry Ronhock's memory. It is the last time her daughter was seen.

Terry drove to Arizona last month, retracing what she knows of Jessie's journey, posting flyers and asking everybody she encountered whether they remembered seeing her.

A young employee at the Kayenta Chevron thought he remembered the white Jeep with lots of bumper stickers driven by a young white woman - and an older man cleaning the windshield.

Terry isn't sure she believes it.

"It was a while ago, and he could have superimposed two images in his mind," she said. "To pick up somebody on the way would have been extremely unlike Jessie. She's very stranger-wary."

But it's the only thing she has to go on. Asking all over Kayenta and Monument Valley - where Terry assumed Jessie spent the afternoon, since it doesn't take four hours to drive from Cameron to Kayenta - produced nothing.

She got excited for a while when some Goulding's Trading Post employees thought they remembered seeing her, but it turned out to be a bus tour passenger who looked a lot like Jessie.

A Navajo Nation Police lieutenant in Kayenta who refused to give his name said they've had no new leads since then, though Terry's poster promises a reward up to $10,000 for information leading to finding her daughter.

"It's been really hard," said Terry, her voice cracking slightly. "We have a son who's a junior in high school, and it's been especially tough on him."

Nevertheless, her trip to the Navajo Nation made her feel hopeful.

"The Navajo people were so kind and beautiful and wonderful," she said. "People were coming up and hugging me, saying they had relatives who were missing too. People offered to say prayers for us and take me to a spiritual person who might be able to contact her. People who saw me again asked how it was going.

"If there's any place to be lost," she added, "I feel like the Navajo Nation is a good place."

Jessie Ronhock is 5-foot-7, between 150 and 160 pounds, and has brown eyes and brown hair. She has rose tattoos on her right shoulder and right front hip.

She was driving a white 2000 Jeep Cherokee Sport with tan interior. It has numerous bumper stickers including a large one on the rear window that says "Masshole." The Massachusetts license number is 66JX98 and it has an RV tow bar in front.

If you believe you have seen Jessie or her vehicle, call Kayenta Police District, 928- 697-5604, or Terry Ronhock, 508-477-0967.

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