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Gina Comes Home

Balloons, banners and a standing ovation greeted Gina DeJesus when she returned home.
Balloons, banners and a standing ovation greeted Gina DeJesus when she returned home.

For years, a huge image of Georgina DeJesus hung on the side of her home on Cleveland's westside. It was part of a long-running campaign by Gina's parents to keep her story alive after the teenager disappeared on the way home from school in the Spring of 2004. Felix DeJesus and his common law wife Nancy Ruiz held annual vigils and conducted countless interviews as a demonstration of their faith that their missing daughter would one be found. In a 2009 interview, Ruiz emphasized that Gina would be found alive

NANCY RUIZ: A lot of people think that because they're missing, they're dead. They're not. I know my daughter's out there. Somebody knows something.

As it turned out, her daughter WAS out there, about three miles away from the family home. When the news of her discovery was announced, this past Monday, balloons, banners, and stuffed animals started appearing in the front yard. The word welcome was written in chalk on the sidewalk. Tuesday morning, passing cars and trucks honked in celebration as they passed the house, and a school bus full of kids waved and cheered.

The cheers were even louder a car brought Gina back to her street yesterday. She climbed out of the vehicle, wearing a yellow hooded sweatshirt to shield her from the dozens of photographers and reporters. As she was protectively hustled her into the house, she thrust a triumphant thumbs-up into the air.

And then, it was time for family members to reflect on the tumultuous emotional journey of the past ten years. Gina's aunt Sandra Ruiz conveyed the family's gratitude.

SANDRA RUIZ: There are not enough words to express the joy of our family

Gina’s mother, Nancy, was filled with gratitude

NANCY RUIZ: I want to thank my neighbors for looking out for me. I want to thank everyone who believed. And I want to thank the ones that didn’t --- I want to thank them the most. Because, they made me stronger.

And then, Gina’s father Felix, had some advice for all the parents that he knew were listening

FELIX DEJESUS: Lately, I’ve been thinking --- watch your kids. We’ve got so many in the neighborhood, and even if it’s not your kid, guess what? It IS your kid. We have these kids who go missing , and then wonder why.

Sandra Ruiz left the crowd with a final plea

SANDRA RUIZ: I got one more thing to say, because I’m the mean one --- please leave us alone now, and give us time to heal.

She indicated that Gina began some of that healing, as soon as she stepped into the house. There had been so many changes. She asked her family for a tour. That’s perhaps the first step she’s going to take toward reclaiming a life she left so long ago.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.