[attach]4943[/attach]For Lela Tabidze, September 14 was a solemn anniversary marked with sadness and hope.
It was a day spent away from work, a day spent with her son George, and a day devoted to honouring her daughter, Mariam Makhniashvili, who disappeared without a trace exactly two years before.
It’s a missing person’s case that has left Tabidze’s family in despair, and local police at a loss for any concrete answers.
It was that day in September, 2009 when then-17-year-old Mariam and her younger brother George walked together from their Shallmar Boulevard apartment to Forest Hill Collegiate, where they had started the new school year only days before. After they parted ways outside the school, Mariam vanished. Despite a massive search effort to find her, Mariam’s whereabouts remain a mystery, but hope for her return remains.
“It was a very difficult day for me, I couldn’t focus at all on anything else even though I work hard and try to keep focused on things, like work and my son,” she said two weeks after the grim anniversary. “But I think it was more a day of remembering and finding what to do next.”
These days, she does what she can to help in the effort to find Mariam. This includes updating a Facebook page devoted to the case. Tabidze says she also got involved in missing person’s agencies and on the anniversary, she worked on other similar cases.
“I share those people’s pain as well and try to follow the stories and see what the outcome is,” she said of families who are looking for a missing loved one.
She finds comfort in the network of friends she has developed since the disappearance, she says, and in the police’s continued efforts to find her daughter.
“The interest in this case is still alive,” Tabidze said.
At the time of the disappearance, Mariam and George were new to the country, having just immigrated to Toronto from Georgia in June of 2009. The move to Toronto reunited them with their parents, Tabidze and husband Vakhtang Makniashvili, who had been living and working for five years in California, trying to save money to bring their children to North America. But the exciting prospect of a new life in Canada abruptly soured with Mariam’s disappearance.
Today, Tabidze and her son are still living in midtown, though in a different apartment near Yonge and Eglinton. Absent from the home is Vakhtang, who is in custody after several brushes with the law.
In May 2010, Vakhtang was arrested for allegedly stabbing a neighbour in a dispute. He was arrested again last November after allegedly stabbing a couple who had helped him in the aftermath of his previous arrest.
Tabidze, who speaks with her husband daily, stands by him. The strain of Mariam’s absence has caused him extraordinary stress, she says.
“I think at this point he is doing a good job of coping and realizing everything, re-thinking everything,” she said. “He’s doing good.”
Tabidze remains steadfast in her conviction that Mariam did not run away, and still feels the most plausible theory was that she was abducted, either by a stranger or someone who lured her.
Detective Jamie McCormack of 53 Division’s Youth Bureau said the case has not grown cold, as his team continues to receive anonymous tips and information from across the country.
“So far, nothing has proven to be of any use as far as the investigation’s gone yet, but there’s always the chance the information may lead us to somewhere where we need to go, so we’re following up,” he said.
McCormack says agencies like Child Find Canada and Interpol still have open files on Makhniashvili’s case.
The detective said the case is distinct, given the length of time that has passed since her disappearance.
“It’s very unusual for Toronto on a whole because generally these types of case are solved pretty quickly and the people are generally returned in a short period of time,” he said.
That disparity can be attributed to Mariam’s circumstances as a newcomer to Toronto.
“The social network, obviously we rely on that for a lot of our missing youth to help locate them but when someone’s new to the community and new to Canada and they don’t have that group set up,” he said. “It makes it very difficult.”
Like Tabidze, police are hopeful that this case will have a happy ending.
“We have no reason to not believe that it’s going to turn out positively so we’re going to continue to chase it down to its conclusion,” McCormack said.
Anyone with information about Mariam Makhniashvili is asked to contact police at 53 Division at 416-808-5300 or anonymously by calling 416-222-TIPS.