Stacy Herron: On a roll for missing and exploited children
Posted December 7, 2016 by Liza Frenette
When teacher Stacy Herron is on a roll, you will know about it. She doesn’t roll solo; she gathers people, steam and purpose as she spins her bicycle for the cases of missing and exploited children.
Wind follows her. Leaves swirl about her spokes.
Hope follows in her trail.
An elementary speech and language pathologist, Herron is a member of the Schodack Central School Faculty Association whose world got tight and twisted when her brother Jeff’s wife Audrey went missing in August 2002. Audrey Herron was a young mother of three little children whom Stacy Herron spent much time with.
Audrey Herron was driving home from her job as a nurse and has not been seen since.
When tragedy hits, people cope – or not – in ways that are different as the daily weather. Stacy Herron hopped on a bike.
Her activism began that fall, when she went to a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the newly opened Center for Hope, started by the Lyall family after their daughter, Suzanne Lyall, went missing in Albany. Then, Stacy and her mom went to their first Missing Person’s Day, held every year in April at the New York State Museum.
“I kept thinking, ‘this isn’t us. She’s going to come home. These people are not us.’ It had been eight months. Now here we are, 14 years later,” Herron said.
She speaks softly in her empty K-5 speech therapy classroom in the small town of Schodack, up the hill from the Hudson River and the town library. Her specialty here is grammar, expressive language, reading comprehension, fluency and articulation errors.
She bites a fingernail.
When she rides, Herron’s grief can grab onto the grit on the roads. It’s an emulsifier.
At that first Missing Person’s Day, she met the chair of the ride from Utica, and decided to get training and try the ride. Herron was already an avid bicyclist; she met her husband in a bike repair shop.
Herron rode 100 miles in the Central New York Ride for Missing and Exploited Children, sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The event just passed its 20-year mark.
“It was more challenging than I thought,” she said. “My lower back hurt.”
NCMEC rides are a way to raise money for posters of missing people; to keep missing people’s names, faces and stories in the public. The rides revolve around visits to schools in the areas of the ride, where NCMEC educators visit students in assemblies in the weeks before the ride. They educate students about how to stay safe in person and online.
Never go alone, ask a trusted adult, say no if it doesn’t feel right are the simple but strong mantras that children are taught. In addition to school assemblies that are provided at no charge, NCMEC hosts safety programs at fairs, police events, for Rotary Clubs and other civic organizations, and for children’s events. They provide materials and fingerprinting cards.
Herron volunteers for some of the fairs, helping children make fingerprint impressions.
“Stacy does a lot for children both in and out of school,” said Tim Ryan, co-president of the SCSFA along with Patricia Ryan.
An energetic and purposeful person, the Utica ride was not enough to wind Herron. She needed more. So she began plans to start the Capital District Ride for Missing Children in the Albany area, meeting monthly for several years with interested riders to get everything set up.
“We copied the Utica ride,” she said. “We have an opening and closing ceremony, do tributes and set out wreaths,” said Herron, who is known at school by her married name, Stacy Wozniak.
The bicyclists have a training ride every weekend of the summer to build up for the fall ride.
“The bike is a huge time commitment,” she said. “But, you know, there’s all these other families. And the older cases don’t get a lot of press. You hear family’s say, “This is the only opportunity to keep the story going.’”
So she keeps riding.
The school education programs that complement the rides are also very important to her as a mom of a young girl. In the Capital Region alone, 150 assemblies were held in the past year.
“As a mom, I’ve got that on my shoulder … what could possibly happen,” she said.
The route for the first three years went by Greenville Elementary, where the riders could stop and visit Audrey’s children to show them support. Daughters Katie and Sonsi take part in the ride day events, talking with school children and supporting Aunt Stacy.
“Every three years, we change the route,” said Herron. The goal is to reach as many schools and students as they can. The bicyclists have ridden to Lincoln Elementary in Scotia, where teen Craig Frear went missing. They’ve spun their route past Milton Terrace in Ballston Spa, where Suzy Lyall went to school.
“We always start at University at Albany because that’s where Suzy went to college and where she was last seen,” said Herron.
Each year, a silent tribute takes place, often at a fire or police station along the route. A standing wreath is placed in front of family members of missing people, who hold signs with the names of their loved ones. The cyclists silently ride by. All that can be heard is the whisper of their spokes.
For the past three years, NYSUT was chosen as the site of the silent tribute as the workplace of a relative of Colin Gillis, who went missing from Tupper Lake. NYSUT supports the many teachers who ride those big 100 miles, and the programs that educate school children about safety.
This year marked the ninth year for the Capital Region Ride for Missing Children. Designing the route takes considerable work, as time schedules have to be adhered to by the minute in order to get to schools on time, while coordinating with law enforcement in order to be at intersections at certain times.
“Law enforcement is so vital to this ride. They’re the heart of it,” Herron said.
Each rider raises $300 to be in the ride, and there are corporate sponsors who donate hotel rooms for family members of missing children, vans for family members, water – of course -- and a bike mechanic to ride along.
Hosting the bike ride, she admits, “is a lot harder than I thought.”
When she is riding up a particularly grueling hill, Herron said she just keeps repeating, “The kids are at the top of the hill.”
The reward is also at the end of the day. “You get to get off your bike and go home to your loved ones when it’s all done,” she said.
To keep her life in balance with her job, volunteer work and mom duties, Herron is in a dinner club with friends that she’s been a part of for 20 years. She’s also a member of a book club but stays away from books about murder or kidnapping.
“I can’t put myself in that situation,” she said.
It was at a gathering of this group this past summer where she was inspired to make a bucket list.
“I want to learn how to play the piano,” Herron said.
In Stacy-speak, that probably means she’ll be starting a symphony.