I write this again because the need has never gone away.
And perhaps you’re reading it again because, for you, the question needs to be answered.
For more than 28 years, we’ve searched for the truth about the death of Tammy Haas, a 1991 Yankton High School graduate who disappeared during YHS’s homecoming week in 1992 and was found dead a few days later in a ravine across the river.
That apparently is where her life ended.
That’s also where the mystery, which has had a tortured life of its own, began.
Ever since, Haas’s ghost has haunted this community. A trial could not resolve the matter, and all efforts to unearth more evidence have led nowhere. What we’ve been left with is silence. A damning silence.
This cold case warmed again this week. On Tuesday, officials with the FBI held a press conference in Yankton to announce the posting of a $15,000 reward for any information that could tie up the loose ends and give closure to Haas’s family and friends, and to the town itself.
Could this reward offer finally do that? Can it draw out the secrets that stubbornly remain unspoken?
After so much time and after so many pleas, it’s too easy to be doubtful.
But having some thin strand of hope — which is all the Haas family has had to cling to all these years — remains important, even though it cannot lead to a happy ending. It won’t undo the damage done. It can only resolve a grim fate, nothing more.
Tuesday would have been Haas’s 48th birthday, which is a startling reminder of how much time has passed and how long we’ve lived with not knowing. To emphasize the point, the press conference featured a poster-sized, digitally-altered image of what Haas might have looked like if she was still alive.
But that image was a fiction, a wistful defying of reality. In fact, she will always be 19, a pretty girl just a year out of high school who was in town for homecoming. In photos, her all-too-familiar eyes will always glow with the vast promises of a life yet to be lived, a journey just begun.
We know that truth — up to a point.
Tuesday’s press conference was planned to coincide with Haas’s birthday and return as much attention as possible to this cold case.
Sometimes, however, the story returns to our radar in unexpected ways.
Last year, Haas’s gravestone was vandalized, a reprehensible act possibly suggesting that someone else hasn’t forgotten what happened a lifetime ago.
Perhaps that act was at least a partial impetus behind Tuesday’s move by the FBI.
The $15,000 reward may seem like a small gesture, especially after all these years and all the dead ends. But sometimes, time and circumstance can unravel stubborn secrets: Allegiances can change and other priorities can emerge. Sometimes, the truth congeals into a moral weight that becomes too crushing to bear, even after so many years — more years, in fact, than Haas herself was even alive.
But Yankton still needs an answer.
The Haas family still needs an answer.
Tammy Haas finally needs to rest.
Perhaps the reward will be the thing that nudges a conscience somewhere to do the right thing. Maybe this time, the truth will finally prevail.
Personally, part of me will never count on this happening. Anyone who can live comfortably for so long with such a secret may not be inclined to be moved by such pleas now. Perhaps the guilt is just too much a part of what they’ve become.
But things can change …
That’s why I still hold out some measure of hope that this can lead to a conclusion that, at long last, closes the story for the family and for the community.
After all, the alternative — the acceptance of the silence and a numb dismissal of the girl’s fate — will always be too bleak to bear.
Anyone with information on the Tammy Haas case can call the FBI Sioux Falls office at 605-334-6881 or the Yankton Police Department at 605-668-5210 or submit information online to the FBI at www.tips.fbi.gov.
Follow @kelly_hertz on Twitter.