Case of missing Austin teen inspires Houston-area nonprofit

In this week's "Missing in Texas," we're taking a look at a nonprofit dedicated to helping families of missing loved ones, and how a case in Austin inspired a mother to start the organization. 

The Texas Center for the Missing, started in March 2000. It is in the Greater Houston area, but it was founded by the mother of 17-year-old Gabriel Lester, who was reported missing from St. Stephen's Episcopal High School in Austin. 

CEO Mel Turnquist says Gabriel's mother, Doreen Wise, was hoping he'd be found within 24 hours.

"Gabe was 17 years old. There's a triage process for law enforcement," Turnquist said. "In the greater Houston area, with our two largest investigating agencies, there were 11,000 new cases recorded last year and only 18 investigators."

Gabriel's remains were found four months later. His mother, a Houston-area business woman, wanted to help others in similar situations.

"After the loss of Gabriel, Doreen decided she wanted to create an organization that could help families walk through this process in the hopes that this would never happen again to other searching families, that a child would be lost no matter what age," Turnquist said.

The Texas Center for the Missing focuses on three areas: education, preparing law enforcement on when to activate alerts, and guiding families through the process.

Emergency alerts are only activated for cases where the person is at risk of bodily harm or death.

"If we activated Amber Alerts and Silver Alerts for every missing person, no one would pay attention," Turnquist said.

When alerts do go out, "I do want to encourage the public that if you see those emergency alerts, no matter what kind it is, do pay attention. Share that on social media because that's the best way we can get them home," she said.

If your loved one goes missing, know who they are communicating with. Look for your loved one, call those people, and call 911.

"It is important to remember there is no 24-hour waiting period in the state of Texas to report a missing person," Turnquist said.


You can also reach out to the Texas Center for the Missing for resources, help make a flyer, and support groups.

Turnquist says they can provide support that investigators may not be able to provide.

"This is the most important work I have ever done in my entire life. Other than raising my children, this will be the greatest legacy I leave behind," she said.

National Missing Children's Day was at the end of May. TCM highlighted the case of Cyan Dior Amos, who has been missing since December 2022.

Their website also has a long-term missing page.

The hope is Gabriel's legacy will be able to help others.

"The more eyes we have on these faces, the greater chance we have to bring these people home and reunite them with their families who desperately want them back home," Turnquist said.