Today represents a somber anniversary for many here in Pleasanton.
Exactly one year ago -- Sept. 30, 2020 -- was the last time former Foothill High School student Sydney "Syd" West was seen before her parents reported her missing to San Francisco police.
Sydney, who had moved to Chapel Hill, N.C. with her family during high school, was back in the Bay Area preparing to study at UC Berkeley.
She had a lengthy phone conversation with her dad the night before her disappearance, and he expected the two would talk the next day. But the call never came. She was last spotted early that morning near the Golden Gate Bridge in the area of Crissy Field, and there has been no new information about her whereabouts since.
The case almost immediately struck a chord in her former hometown of Pleasanton and her adoptive home in North Carolina. It still does.
That's in no small part due to Sydney's parents, Jay and Kimberly West, continuing to keep their daughter's case in the spotlight.
"Hey Syd ... It's been a year. A year without somebody that you cherish is so hard," father Jay said in an emotional video posted on the "Find Sydney West" Facebook page this week.
"We pray every day that you're out there, and by the grace of God, by some miracle, you come home to us alive," he added. "I've said it a million times; find your way home girl. We love you, and you're inseparable to all of our souls."
Kimberly echoed similar sentiments when I connected with her via email last weekend, with the help of the campaign's media relations rep.
"It has been an emotional roller coaster that no one can imagine," she said. "As time moves on, it gets harder and harder to have so many days lapse without talking to Sydney, seeing her face, hearing her voice and laughter. There is hope when we have a lead, and defeat when it does not pan out."
The family has enlisted Bay Area private investigator Scott Dudek to pursue leads from the public, and tips continue to come in. "It only takes one tip; maybe it's the one tip that finds her," Kimberly said.
Checking on the status of the official police case, I reached out to San Francisco PD last week to see whether there was a working theory for Sydney's disappearance or perhaps if any potential cause had been ruled out, listing a few obvious examples to see if anything had been crossed off.
A simple yet understandable statement followed from an SFPD media rep: "We do not have any updates on this investigation that remains open."
Kimberly told me, "The bridge was quite busy (that day). Someone must have seen something ... Nothing is being ruled out. So many children are missing in the US, this should not even be something anyone ever has to experience."
I have visited the Find Sydney West website and Facebook page periodically over these past months to look for any new information. The Facebook account is particularly moving, with posts often from her parents recalling fond family memories or reflecting on their daughter's absence or raising awareness about her case. They paint the picture of a young woman deeply loved and deeply missed.
Support for Sydney and the Wests is definitely bicoastal -- as shown by videos and photos from Kimberly's hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., where this summer the Find Sydney West team raised money and awareness for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children through a cycling event.
It also struck me that Sydney's family posted last week in reaction to the sad news of Gabby Petito's death. This is the case grabbing national headlines after the 22-year-old Florida woman was first reported missing while on a trip and then her body discovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming -- and now, the ongoing manhunt for her fiance, Brian Laundrie.
The Wests' posts demonstrated just how interconnected families with missing loved ones can feel with each other.
I do pause when I read recurring news updates on the Petito case.
Partly because it was just a couple months earlier that my wife and I were visiting those same national parks in Wyoming. But also in recognition of the conversations critical of media response to the saga; the notion that national news folks jump at the chance to cover a young blonde white woman when they often downplay or ignore equally important cases of missing persons of color.
National news organizations and social media traffic are often guilty of selective mob mentality when it comes to criminal cases. I like to think we avoid such blinders amid our coverage at the local level here in the Tri-Valley, but I'm not afraid to acknowledge our shortcomings either.
We as a news industry -- and as a society -- need to better prioritize missing persons cases, especially those involving children or young women who have been abducted or otherwise victimized.
But we all need to also pay extra close attention to abductions targeting girls and women of color. There are families and other important sources telling us that in many instances in America these victims' cases are -- consciously or unconsciously -- deprioritized compared to when the missing person is white. That can't happen. Their lives cannot be undervalued.
And quite frankly, ignoring or downplaying such cases is exactly what those responsible rely on society to do, so they can continue to skate free.
We must keep attention on missing persons cases as often as we can. Because our common goal as a community should be to help these families reunite or find closure.
With that, I urge anyone with information about Sydney West's whereabouts or who may have seen what happened with her that morning near the bridge to come forward and contact Dudek at 925-852-4204. Let's #FindSydneyWest.
Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since February 2017. His "What a Week" column runs on the first and third Fridays of the month.