The last time Kendra Nystrom’s family saw her was on footage from their home’s video surveillance system more than five months ago.
The morning started out normal. The 30-year-old stopped by her parent’s house with a friend to do laundry at around 9 a.m.
But Kendra set off the house alarm. She might’ve been high. And then the cops came.
A friend, who was still outside by the car, had some meth on her. The cops handcuffed her, and Kendra watched from the house.
Then, the footage shows Kendra moving to the back porch while holding her beloved 10 pound Chihuahua, Frankie.
She walked south along the Cowskin Creek and eventually out of the camera’s view. She left behind her cellphone, wallet, car and clothing.
That was May 4.
Her daughter’s disappearance has gotten Judith Nystrom and the rest of her family acquainted with several South Broadway motel owners and members of what they call Wichita’s drug community, who seem to be stringing them along with potential false information.
Her parents are exhausted. They’ve followed hundreds of leads. They’ve kept in constant contact with Maize police. They’ve worried and cried.
A longtime friend, Tiffany, has put herself in danger looking for Kendra. She’s gone into seedy motels to confront owners. She’s knocked on doors to possible drug houses. She’s given out her number to dozens of people she doesn’t trust. All because she wants to make sure Kendra is OK.
Because of her contacts with certain people, Tiffany asked that The Eagle not publish her last name for safety reasons.
What’s the truth?
Tips the Nystrom family has received seem to lead them back to the same group of people. But those people keep telling them they haven’t seen Kendra. Bruce and Judith think they’re lying.
“We know they’ve seen these fliers,” Judith Nystrom said. “They just need to be brave and talk. Just tell us where she is. That’s all we want. We’re not looking to arrest anybody. We’re not looking to save the drug world or whatever. We just want to find her.”
They also believe Kendra has been hanging around the Heritage Inn, 5349 S. Broadway.
Earlier this month, Judith Nystrom’s niece stopped by the hotel to drop off missing-persons fliers. The man behind the counter said he had seen Kendra but refused to rent her a room because she didn’t have any money.
The next day, Judith Nystrom and Tiffany went back. They walked into the lobby with another handful of fliers.
“Have you seen her?” Tiffany asked the man.
“I haven’t,” he said. “...I have not seen that lady.”
“Did she try to stay here?” Tiffany asked.
“No,” he said.
Outside the lobby, Judith Nystrom said he was the same man who claimed a day earlier he had seen Kendra.
“This is what we keep going through,” Tiffany said. “We go around and around. We’re chasing our tails right now.”
And her parents are having a hard time believing Kendra’s associates.
“She’d been with a guy the day before (she disappeared) and he said she had called him about 10 that night, and he said she called him about 5 o’clock (the day she disappeared) and said she was at Pawnee and Broadway and she was really tired so could he come pick her up,” Bruce Nystrom said. “When he got there, she wasn’t there.”
“And that’s just another story,” Judith Nystrom added. “Is it true? I don’t know.”
Andy Garcia-Ruse, a licensed medical health and addiction counselor in Kansas City said it’s not surprising that if someone knows where Kendra is, they’re keeping quiet.
“With addictive thinking that’s also correlated with criminal behaviors, you have secrecy and protection,” she said. “That’s how you get the, ‘Snitches get in ditches, we protect our own at any cost,’ culture.”
Is the family worried people — especially ones who know Kendra — are lying to throw them off her tracks?
“We worry about that,” Tiffany said. “It’s frustrating. But most of the tips are people who really believe they saw her and it was a case of mistaken identity.”
That even happened to Judith Nystrom.
“There’s someone around (South Broadway) who is a Kendra lookalike,” she said, half laughing. “I was driving and thought I saw her, so I pulled into a driveway to block her and it wasn’t her.”
Judith Nystrom realized something that day. “If her own mother can confuse her with someone else, other people can.”
Nystrom is about 5-feet-4-inches tall and weighs between 100 and 120 pounds. She has reddish, brown hair and the initials “R.J.” tattooed on her left ring finger.
Other people want to know what’s in it for them if they help.
“People will ask, ‘Is there a reward?’” Judith Nsytrom said. “Yeah, the reward is being a good person.”
The problem with many tips is people aren’t reporting sightings until days later.
“If you think you see her, let us know, let the police know immediately,” Bruce Nystrom pleaded.
“Or just talk to her,” Judith Nystrom added. “She’s very nice and talkative. She will talk to you. Try to get her full name.”
Detective Jeff Piper of the Maize Police Department said there are three possibilities of what happened to Kendra.
Police had originally thought she’d fallen into the Cowskin Creek, which was running well above level the day she disappeared.
Investigators took certified cadaver dogs from Great Plains Search & Rescue K9s along the bank.
“(The dogs) have shown interest in a particular part of the creek and we’re working on options to better search the area,” he said about a week ago. “The dive team didn’t find anything.”
Piper said seven members of the team searched the creek from 21st Street to the 29th Street North bridge.
But on Thursday, they more thoroughly searched the creek and didn’t find any indication she was there. The cadaver dogs didn’t alert to any remains.
“I believe she’s out there somewhere,” Piper said Thursday afternoon.
There’s a possibility and concern that Kendra was a victim of a crime.
“Because of her addiction, we know the individuals she associated with are not of the greatest character,” Piper said. “Typically, addicts can easily become victims of crime themselves. She’s a young lady — even though she’s 30, she’s still young — and there are a lot of people with ill will who could take advantage of her.”
There’s a possibility she was abducted or taken out of the state, he said. However, media reports of Kendra’s disappearance have crossed state lines, but they haven’t resulted in additional tips, Piper said.
The third possibility is that Kendra is in Wichita hiding out. It’s not illegal for a 30-year-old woman to not call home. And it’s not uncommon for addicts to hide out or for their friends to help.
However, Piper said police are concerned because in the past, when Kendra left home, she always called.
Garcia-Ruse said she’s seen countless cases where addicts have hidden from their families for days, weeks and even months.
“This person’s life can start to solely revolve around the drug use and they only start surrounding themselves with people who are also using the drug or people who can get them the drug, so they just tune out the rest of the world,” she said. “They can be experiencing lots of shame and guilt. They could have committed a crime or done something that’s so shameful it’s hard to return to their loved ones.”
Some clients she’s worked with said they simply wanted a break.
Fighting an addiction
Sitting in their Maize home on a recent morning, Kendra’s parents spoke openly about their youngest daughter’s drug problems.
Kendra was adopted by the Nystroms as a baby. “Her parents, in the past, had some addictions and they passed them onto her,” Judith Nystrom said.
Kendra has fought her drug addiction since high school.
“It’s literally a battle every day,” Judith Nystrom said. “She has a very addictive personality, and it’s very hard for her to quit. And when she does quit, it’s very hard for her to stay clean.”
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She made it to almost two years of sobriety once. She had a great job, a new car and her own apartment.
When she’s sober, Kendra is happy, kind and friendly.
She’d tell her parents she didn’t have friends. Then something would happen and she’d be back to using, and back with the wrong group of people.
Through her disappearance, Judith Nystrom has learned that Kendra does have friends — good ones.
“The recovery community has done a lot to try to find her,” Judith Nystrom said.
She wishes Kendra realized how much her sober friends care about her.
Kendra: You’re not in trouble
Bruce and Judith Nystrom can only speculate that she was afraid of going to jail. It’s why they think that if she’s alive, she hasn’t contacted them.
“The missing posters kind of look like wanted posters,” Judith Nystrom said. “With drug users, they’re very paranoid. But she’s not in trouble.”
Her parents firmly believe she is alive and hiding out in Wichita.
They’ve even contacted local animal shelters to see if her dog, Frankie, has been picked up somewhere.
What’s strange, her mom said, is that any time Kendra left home before, she called — sometimes three or four times a day.
“She would have been calling by now wanting the phone and the car and begging, ‘Can I have my car back?’” Judith Nystrom said.
Whether her daughter is sober or not, Judith Nystrom said that doesn’t mean her daughter deserves to be missing.
“Drugs are in every class of people,” she said. “... There’s a problem in their genes — they become addicted to something. It could be drugs, it can be alcohol, it can be gambling, it can be collecting something like owls or whatever.”
Piper, the detective, mirrored Judith Nystrom’s thoughts.
“The underlying tragedy is that we’re talking about a missing person with a family who loves her and she just essentially vanished,” he said. “The drug usage is just ultimately what led to where we are today.”
He believes there’s someone out there who knows exactly where Kendra is.
“We desperately need that person to come forward,” he said. “We need to know where she is, but more importantly, her family needs to know. We need to bring closure to her family.”
And Kendra, if you’re out there — you’re not in trouble.
“Working with some people, especially addicts, they have a tremendous fear and distrust of law enforcement,” Piper said. “She may be at the belief that we’re out to arrest her and that’s not true. If she would simply reach out to her mom and dad so they can hear her voice, that’s what we need. She doesn’t even needs to contact me. But she’s in no trouble with law enforcement.”