Former Fostorian Dusty Westenbarger is leading a tireless search to find his mother, Esther, who disappeared in November.
Esther, a longtime Fostoria resident, lived in the area for most of her life. She attended Fostoria High School and was a member of the class of 1977, but did not graduate, and worked at Findlay Industries for almost 20 years.
Life took her many places, including Toledo and Michigan, but she most recently moved into a trailer in Kokomo, Ind. to be closer to her mother and siblings.
It was shortly after her move there in the fall that she disappeared after a night out on the town.
According to Howard County detective Scott Waymire, Esther was last seen leaving Miller's Tavern on foot at 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 12. Waymire said there are no solid leads.
Waymire described Esther as a 51 year-old Caucasian woman, with reddish-brown shoulder-length hair, who weighs approximately 135 pounds and is 5'7". At the time of her disappearance, she was wearing a cream color three-quarter length v-neck shirt with blue jeans, flip flop shoes and a dark-colored jacket.
Other physical identifiers include a tattoo of a First Calvary insignia on her upper-left bicep (yellow and black), and a tattoo of a parachute with wings on her left ankle (brown and black).
Her text message records indicate that she arrived later at another bar that night, although the means of her arrival is uncertain, according to Dusty. It is believed that she was en route to the Hoosier Bar, where her vehicle, a 2005 Cadillac CTS with the Ohio vanity license plate reading "MSESTER," was last seen.
Dusty had been in Kokomo visiting her shortly before her disappearance after recently getting married, and said that his mother's spirits were low and she had been second-guessing her decision to move to Indiana.
"She found out that it wasn't all she thought it would be," Dusty said of their conversations while he was in town visiting her. "She was looking for love in all the wrong places and was looking for a friend, someone to talk to."
In an attempt to meet new people, Dusty said his mother had been frequenting local bars in a 'rough part of town.'
After Dusty's weekend-long trip, he and wife Joanna traveled to Florida where they planned to make a new life together and look for work. Only a few days after they landed in Sunshine State did they receive the call that she was missing.
Esther was missing for 36 hours before the initial search was conducted, according to Dusty. He quickly boarded a plane back to Kokomo and arrived Nov. 14 to join his family members in the search for her.
Aside from her vehicle and cell phone, all of Esther's personal effects remain in her trailer. She had also been anticipating a visit from her sister for their mother's birthday the weekend following her disappearance -- all signs Dusty points to as evidence that there was foul play and his mother didn't randomly decide to flee Kokomo.
Although he described her as naive and quick to trust people, he said she was 'tough' and he always thought of her as 'someone who could take care of herself.'
"This caught me totally off guard," Dusty said. "I would never have thought my mom would become a victim."
After having spent weeks in Kokomo conducting searches of the area and meeting with local law enforcement, Dusty recently returned to Fostoria where he is calculating his next move.
"We've got to make some critical decisions soon. We can't keep surviving like this," he said.
The search continues on for the Westenbarger family and they are reaching out to the community and those that knew Esther for help. Donations are being collected for the 'Find Esther Fund' at any Key Bank, and should be written in care of Esther's niece L. Daugherty. Any donations collected will help with legal fees the family has encountered in securing Esther's assets and will also go toward the search itself.
"We have conducted extensive interviews in this case and are asking for any assistance from the public regarding her disappearance," Detective Waymire said.
If you have any information on the whereabouts of Esther Westenbarger, contact the Howard County Sheriff Department at 765-456-2031, or the CUE Center for Missing Persons at 910-343-1131 or 910-232-1687, or visit ncmissingpersons.org.