In a couple of days, just prior to Santa Claus delivering Christmas cheer as only he can, Richard Harris will turn 9 years old, and one of the things his maternal grandmother, Valencia Harris, says she prays he has for his birthday and during this holiest of seasons is his mother's arms wrapped around him and younger brother U'Andre, 6.
The boys haven't felt their mother's hugs for more than 22 months.
She hasn't called home to inquire about them or sent mysterious birthday cards.
Richard and U'Andre's mother, Unique Harris, has seemingly vanished without a trace.
Reported missing from her home in the 2400 block of Hartford Street in Southeast Washington on Oct. 9, 2010, the young mother of two, who has worn eyeglasses since the third grade, is a D.C. cold case.
Her cellphone and house keys disappeared along with her. Her eyeglasses, on the other hand, stayed in the apartment.
There were 85,820 active missing-person files in 2010, according to the FBI's National Crime Information Center.
The Harris case is an official cold case for the Metropolitan Police Department.
Ms. Harris doesn't try to hide her mixed emotions, and admitted she is as hopeful as she is bitter.
There have been four Metropolitan Police detectives on the case since then without a peep of Unique Harris' possible whereabouts, a solid lead, potential suspects or persons of interest.
And the boys' running commentary — "Grandma, I miss my mommy!" — has left the petite D.C. native wrenched with determination.
"I try to not let more than a week or two go by without contacting police," Ms. Harris said over breakfast at a restaurant not far from her daughter's former home. Unique had only lived there a little more than a month.
"I was concerned about her safety even though the [7th District] police station was a couple blocks away," she said. "Her keys were gone, and her cell was gone, but what's the sticking point to me is her eyeglasses and the cell."
Unique can't see without her glasses, said her mother, adding that she had worn glasses since childhood and that the phone holds a possible lead.
"Police would not fully track her phone," Ms. Harris said, although they did discover a 3 a.m. incoming call.
"They looked into her inner circle and gave a polygraph to the boys' father," who lives in Richmond, she said.
The inner circle included a boyfriend, who at the time was attending a U.S. Job Corps program in West Virginia and had an alibi.
Thousands of Americans go missing each year, and not all of their cases or faces are given national media coverage.
The Harris case has not been as widely publicized as some missing-person cases involving young women, such as the disappearance of Natalee Holloway or the sexually scandalous case of congressional intern Chandra Levy.
But there has been a measure of coverage by BET and on several websites, including websleuths.com and missingpersonsnetwork.org.
In addition, findthemissing.org lists several details about missing-persons cases, and in Unique's case, those details include tattoos with her and her sons' names.
Also, blackandmissinginc.com and rewardstv.net cite an award up to $25,000 for information that would lead to the safe return of Unique Harris.
Ms. Harris said she and her grandsons' father have a bitter relationship that did not stem from her daughter's disappearance, and she is appreciative that she gets to visit them.
But those occasional visitations, since the boys live with their dad in Richmond, hardly fill the hole left in her heart with them so far away and with her oldest daughter, whose 27th birthday is in January, still missing.
"Honestly," she said, "the case leaves more questions than answers."
There appeared to be no forced entry, and no bloody footprints or fingerprints.
The apartment wasn't torn apart.
Neither the boys nor Unique Harris' niece heard her bickering with an intruder.
"It's unnerving," said Ms. Harris. "My daughter is gone. The boys want their mother. I want my daughter."
If you have any information that could help Ms. Harris and those two young boys have a merrier Christmas, please call the Metropolitan Police Department at 202/391-4164 or 202/727-9099, or the Black and Missing Foundation Inc.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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