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Candlelight vigil marks anniversary of young actor’s disappearance

Samantha Pichler lights a candle at a vigil remembering her missing brother Wednesday night. - Photo by Sean Janssen
Samantha Pichler lights a candle at a vigil remembering her missing brother Wednesday night.
— image credit: Photo by Sean Janssen

It has been six months since child actor Joe Pichler disappeared January 5, last seen in an East Bremerton parking lot in the early morning hours.

For Pichler’s friends and family, it has been the longest six months of their lives.

Those who knew Pichler, 19, and others gathered to support those still looking for him, holding out hope he is still alive but wanting to know what happened to him more than anything else, numbered more than 100 in the parking lot of Taqueria Los Cazadores Wednesday night. They came together for a candlelight vigil, to pray, to share memories of Pichler and to raise awareness that he is still missing, not returned home nor the known victim of suicide, as rumors have let on.

“We want to raise awareness. We don’t feel like anyone is really looking for him. We’re trying to change people’s minds as to what happened to him,” said Janet Bates, part of Guarding Angels, a worldwide volunteer organization that serves as an intermediary between families of missing persons and police departments. “I can’t believe how many people don’t know he’s missing at all. Half of Hollywood doesn’t know he’s missing and that’s alarming to me. People need to be looking for him and turn in more clues.”

Bates lamented the lack of media attention the Pichler case has received. While news of his disappearance made its way to national television in the weeks immediately afterward, that coverage quickly dissipated. Bates herself became aware of the Pichler family’s plight when she discovered a story about Pichler’s mother, Kathy, not getting the help she had hoped for.

While the Guarding Angels organization has in some cases drawn criticism from police, Bates emphasized that is not the group’s focus.

“We are not trying to make the police look bad at all. They are doing their jobs,” she said. “We want to shift the community’s focus to know they need to be searching for him. We’ve got to work together.”

Pichler’s friends are holding out hope he will be found, but that hope can fade as time passes.

“I just hope we find out he is maybe still alive,” said friend Jon Quenga. “If not, if we could just find his body, I’m pretty sure that would help ease everyone’s nerves. The police, I hope, will just keep searching and never give up hope.”

“Hopefully, we find him, dead or alive. Hopefully alive,” said John Scheer, another high school pal of the missing man.

Friends shared tales of Pichler’s spontaneity, making spur-of-the-moment trips to California and to Indiana for a Star Trek convention.

Pichler, a Bremerton High School graduate, had been out of movies since the 2002 film “Children on Their Birthdays” and had discussed returning to acting before he disappeared. He also had roles in “Beethoven’s 3rd,” “Varsity Blues,” and the TV show “Touched By An Angel” during his career.

For his mother, the show of support at the vigil was welcomed.

“It’s so helpful,” she said. “He didn’t kill himself. My daily mission, all I do, is try and find my son.”

Soon after his disappearance, she felt she would rather he remain missing than know he met a tragic fate. With time, her outlook has changed.

“It used to be I would rather live the rest of my life not knowing than know something bad,” she said. “But each day gets harder and harder.”

For more information about Joe Pichler’s disappearance, visit joepichler.4ourangel.com. To share information that could lead to learning his whereabouts, call Bremerton police at (360) 473-5228 or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678. Donations to help fund the search for Pichler can be made at any KeyBank location. The account number for his search fund is 471809015095 and for the reward fund is 471809015004.

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