Special Reports

Answers elusive in Gricar mystery

BELLEFONTE — A month has gone by, and police are no closer to an answer about what happened to District Attorney Ray Gricar than when his girlfriend first called to say he hadn't returned home.

Although Patty Fornicola, his girlfriend and housemate, still believes Gricar is alive and "out there somewhere," she is struggling to come to terms with the knowledge that she and Gricar's family may never know what happened.

"I'm aware that we may not have an answer," she said. "I don't like that. But it's happened, and we all just have to try to cope and be patient."

Fornicola last spoke to Gricar about 11:30 a.m. April 15, when he called from his cell phone to say he was taking a drive along state Route 192 and wouldn't be at work that afternoon.

It was the last time any of his loved ones heard from him. The following day, the red-and-white Mini Cooper he was driving was found in a parking lot in Lewisburg. His county-issued cell phone was inside the locked car. His wallet, keys, sunglasses and a county-issued laptop computer are still missing.

Police have searched the nearby Susquehanna River several times, with divers and a dog trained to detect corpses. They've used a helicopter and Civil Air Patrol planes to search from the air. They've tracked down reports of sightings of Gricar in Lewisburg on April 16 and in Wilkes-Barre on April 18. They've scanned dozens of videotapes from surveillance cameras of Lewisburg businesses. They've even contacted a psychic.

But they say they're no closer to solving the mystery of Gricar's disappearance than they were the day he was reported missing.

Fornicola, who has returned to her job as a clerk in the district attorney's office, said she's just "going through the motions" in her day-to-day routine.

"I'm constantly thinking of Ray and what might have happened," she said. "At the end of the day, I'm emotionally exhausted. But as soon as I wake up, it starts all over again."

Fourteen years ago, Clearfield resident Iris Myers was where Fornicola is today.

Her younger sister, Brenda Condon, had just moved to Bellefonte and had begun working days at Carl's Bad Tavern along state Route 550 in Spring Township. She was supposed to close the bar alone on Feb. 27, 1991, and then head home. Her boots were found in the men's bathroom, and her car was still parked outside.

But Condon, then 28, was gone.

When police called Myers to see if she had seen or heard from her sister, Myers was shocked. She had planned to see her sister that weekend to celebrate a family birthday. Instead, she went to the police station to sign a missing person report.

Much like in Gricar's disappearance last month, police had few clues to Condon's mysterious disappearance. Myers even hired a private detective.

Police investigating Condon's disappearance are still stumped. Myers said she's always believed she knows what happened to her sister.

"I still feel that she was murdered," Myers said, because if Condon is still alive, "she would have made contact with me. I was like her mother; I kind of raised her."

Fornicola said she is trying not to come to any conclusions about Gricar's disappearance. Even so, she occasionally finds herself thinking about whether he is dead.

"Sometimes I wander there, but I pull myself back," she said. "I don't know what happened. ... Miracles do happen. That's all I can say."

The worst part of the past month, though, has been not knowing what has happened, Fornicola said. Myers is very familiar with that feeling.

Life has gone on in the 14 years since Condon disappeared -- her two children have grown up and started lives of their own -- but Myers still wonders whether she'll ever know what happened.

"Every day, I still think about where my sister might be, what police are doing, what's going on," Myers said. "Why do I have to wait this long? Why has 14 years gone by?"

Last year, 165,786 adults were reported missing in the U.S., according to statistics kept by the FBI. The majority of cases end happily, said Kym Pasqualini, CEO of the National Center of Missing Adults.

A possible happy ending is what keeps Fornicola going.

"We continue to hope," she said. "Sometimes it's difficult. But all we have is hope. We have to lean on that."

Erin L. Nissley can be reached at 231-4616.