Connie McCallister, now 26, was a 16-year-old Athens High School student who had just moved to Wausau with her family when she disappeared.
MILWAUKEE — A woman who disappeared as a teen from Wausau, Wis., more than nine years ago has been found in Mexico and could return to the state with her three daughters as early as Christmas.
Connie McCallister, now 26, was a 16-year-old Athens High School student who had just moved to Wausau with her family when she disappeared with her boyfriend, then 22.
Judy Weise, a family friend who works as the administrative assistant at Trinity Lutheran Church and School, is leading a group of volunteers in Athens to raise money to assist McCallister and her children.
"We want to use this as an example for families with missing relatives to never give up hope," Weise said. "There's always a chance their loved one could come home. Don't ever give up hope."
McCallister is one of three siblings — her sister and brother still reside in Wausau. Her father died on Christmas Day when McCallister was 5 years old. After his death, her family moved from Milwaukee to Athens, where they attended Trinity Lutheran Church and School.
In high school, McCallister began dating a 22-year-old man.
"He told her everything that she needed to hear, and she got involved with him," Weise said. "They went to a party in Milwaukee and (McCallister) called her sister and said, 'He won't bring me back,' and that's the last anyone heard from her, until Sept. 15."
Daily Herald Media, which first reported that McCallister had been found, also reported that McCallister's first boyfriend is being sought by authorities in an unrelated case on a charge of first-degree sexual assault.
Weise said McCallister was able to get away from the boyfriend, who had drugged and repeatedly beaten her. Her next boyfriend "was the same type of person as the first," Weise said.
That boyfriend fathered McCallister's first child, now 6, and McCallister was able to find help in the hospital and change her identity, Weise said.
With her new identity, she "began working in the fields" and met her current husband, who is the father of her two other daughters, ages 1 and 3, and is supporting McCallister's journey back to Wisconsin.
McCallister and her husband had met a church missionary, and she told the missionary that she was a missing person. The missionary contacted National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
Weise said McCallister and her children plan to reside with family in Athens and is petitioning the court so her husband can join her in the U.S.
The church has established a fund at the Athens Area Credit Union to benefit McCallister's family.
"It's very costly to get someone through all of this process," Weise said. "They need car seats, clothes and bunk beds. Connie is dealing with health issues — she's only 98 pounds — and needs medical care, and three children need immunizations, and there are ongoing needs."
As the news of McCallister's safe return spread Wednesday, many offered to help.
"We're just so excited because this story will be a happy one," Weise said. "Not many families can have this happy ending."
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