Up until Friday afternoon when it was reported that a car was found submerged in a forest preserve lake, the family of missing Crestwood college student James Sylvester, 21, never gave up hope.
Family members prayed that Jim or Jimmy, had taken some time away from the stress of his senior year of college and gone off by himself to gather his thoughts.
“I just know he’s going to come walking through the door,” his aunt, Mary Jane Nowdomski, said on Friday, before word of the car being found.
Those hopes were dashed when Sylvester’s 2002 Honda Civic was spotted in Lake Arrowhead in Palos Heights.
The discovery brought nightmarish closure to a desperate family, but at least it was some kind of closure.
Sylvester lived at home with his family while attending classes at DeVry University in Tinley Park. He was stable, ambitious, intelligent, funny and well liked by other students.
He insisted on paying for his own college education. He was conscientious about not worrying his parents.
Before disappearing late in the evening of March 27, he and his mother were watching TV and laughing. Everything seemed fine.
After his mother went to bed, Sylvester went back to his room where he sent distraught text messages to friends, including his girlfriend. The tone of the messages and activity on his computer led many to believe that he might harm himself.
According to Crestwood police, Sylvester had texted, “tell everyone I’m sorry.”
A friend was on his way over to Sylvester’s house after he had texted him, asking if they could meet and talk. Sylvester was already gone when his friend arrived. He was reported missing the next afternoon.
Police conducted an air search of the forest preserves Easter weekend, using special equipment designed to detect a body or car. When neither was found, the family felt a glimmer of hope.
Throughout the week hundreds of volunteers combed the parking lots of schools, motels, restaurants and train stations, looking for the beige-gold Honda with the license plate N253967 in Happy Hyundai plate frames.
His younger sister, Amanda, had created a Facebook page, “Help Find Jim Sylvester.” A local printer donated 2,500 glossy "missing person" fliers.
His mother was planning a double graduation party for Jim and Amanda, who was also due to graduate from Shephard High School.
Sylvester had recently initiated a breakup with his girlfriend in the weeks before he disappeared because he was busy with school, his aunt said. the couple remained on speaking terms, and family believed they would reunite.
During the week, Sylvester’s parents went out every day to search for their son. Nowdomski and her husband went out looking too.
“We’re just going to keep looking for him,” his aunt said. “My sister (Jim’s mom) won’t stop looking until he’s found.”
The family was organizing another weekend search party on Friday, when Sylvester's car was spotted submerged in Lake Arrowhead near Harlem Avenue and 135th Street, where the last transmission activity on Sylvester’s cell phone had been traced.
As the car with Sylvester’s body inside was being pulled out of the lake, family members announced on Facebook that the weekend's search party had been canceled.
An autopsy is pending at the medical examiner's office. Police do not believe foul play to be involved.