October 30, 2009
Vigil marks anniversary of Gillern disappearance
Family, friends seek answers, hold on to memories of Cortlandville man missing in Austria
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Rahman Jiminez offers remembrances of his older brother Aeryn Gillern during a vigil in Gillern’s honor Thursday at the Blue Frog Coffeehouse on Main Street in Cortland.
Rahman Jiminez is without words to describe the loss he feels in his half brother’s absence.
The word “hope” is no longer part of his vocabulary when thinking about the disappearance of Aeryn Gillern, Jiminez said.
Gillern, 34, disappeared in Vienna, Austria, on Oct. 29, 2007.
He was working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organization at the time.
At a vigil Thursday evening at the Blue Frog Coffeehouse to remember Gillern, Jiminez shared childhood memories he holds onto, such as his sibling’s odd sense of humor or running to keep up with his big brother’s strides.
The vigil was held to mark the two-year anniversary of the Cortlandville man’s disappearance.
In the two years, Gillern’s family still has no leads on his disappearance.
“I am overwhelmed with how many people showed up — and so thankful,” Jiminez said.
Gillern was remembered Thursday as a strong man who wore bow ties to high school, always dressed sharply and was devoutly Catholic.
The vigil drew a crowd of about 40 people who surrounded pictures of Gillern that showed a young athletic, smiling boy, and as a serious young man. Mourners held candles during a moment of silence and a few shared their memories of Gillern.
Jiminez and Gillern’s mother, Kathy Gilleran, organized the vigil but she could not attend because she is in Vienna filming a documentary about her son’s disappearance.
But those present said the vigil was a way of letting Gilleran know she has support in her quest for answers. Her son changed the spelling of his last name to a traditional family spelling.
“I wanted to let Kathy know that she has a family and we support her,” said Kathy Ballard of Groton.
Ballard worked with Gillern at the Groton Public Library when he was in high school. She came to know his mother years later when they both became members of the Cortland/Ithaca chapter of Parents and Family of Lesbians and Gays.
Gillern was an openly gay man.
Ballard and other PFLAG members described themselves Thursday as an extended family, striving for community acceptance of their gay family members or friends.
Ballard remembers Gillern as a strong person and opinionated in his beliefs.
“He was a strong person, and I felt he was strong because he had a very strong religious faith,” Ballard said.
Ballard, who said her son ran on the high school cross country team with Gillern, was overcome with emotion when she thought of his mother’s struggle to find answers.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a son, and wonder and not know what happened,” Ballard said.
This outrage permeated Thursday’s vigil.
Gretchen Morning, who is producing the documentary that Gilleran is working on in Vienna about her experience, said she is enraged at the lack of answers.
Morning said Austrian authorities lied to Gilleran about the time her son left a sauna in Weihburggasse, where he was last seen the night of his disappearance. Morning said police also misled Gilleran about their investigation afterward, saying they pursued a report about a body floating in a river, which was later found to be untrue.
“Your only hope is the police, and you go to those people who are supposed to help and when that broke down that injustice is so egregious,” Morning said.
Morning hopes to attain grant funding in February to bring the documentary to completion.
Fran Gutman-Chernow, a member of PFLAG, said the organization’s mission is to help people increase acceptance and support of their gay family members.
Andrew Chernow, who is co-president of the Ithaca-Cortland chapter of PFLAG, said it is impossible to tell how accepting someone is of homosexuality because people may not let on how they feel about it.
The Chernows both say the time is long overdue for the message of equality to spread.
For Gillern’s brother, coping with the disappearance is a day-to-day struggle.
“People ask me how I deal with this and there is no ... way to deal with it. I live every day not knowing what happened,” Jiminez said.
Jiminez said he feels as if he has been living in a fog for two years, since he went to Vienna in search of answers about his brother’s disappearance, and came back with none. The vigil was a way for people to remember the dangers of traveling abroad, said Jiminez, who said he still cannot believe what has happened to his family.
The family created a Web site for Gillern — aeryngillern.com — and an unspecified reward is posted for anyone who provides information about his disappearance.
To read this article and more, pick up today's Cortland Standard
Click here to subscribe