When Madison, Ind., resident Celestra Hoffman first heard the news on Monday, May 6, she was in the middle of a speech therapy session with a patient at The Waters of Clifty Falls, where she works as a therapist. The TV stations were erratic with news about the discovery of three women who had been held for nearly a decade by a man in a Cleveland home.
It was later learned that Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight had been kidnapped and held for years by their alleged abductor, Ariel Castro, one woman even having a child by the man. The child is now 6 and was also found to be living in the home.
Apparently, Castro had left the house that Monday, and Berry found the perfect opportunity to get free and scream for help through a crack in the front door. Angel Cordero, who was on the porch visiting the home across the street, and neighbor Charles Ramsey say they came to her aid and kicked open the door. Ramsey and Berry called 911. Castro was later arrested and charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape.
Celestra (Dattilo) Hoffman celebrates the finish of the 2013 Molly Run with her younger brother, Wilbur Dattilo, on May 11 in Madison, Ind. The two have an annual duel over the three-mile course, and this year, despite Celestra’s having lost 10 pounds to prepare for the race, Wilbur won.
Hoffman, meantime, did not catch the entire story until she arrived home from work that evening and turned on the TV. Hoffman, 35, is one of four sisters of Molly Dattilo, the college student from Madison who vanished nearly nine years ago in Indianapolis and is still missing. Molly was 23 when she was last seen placing a call to a friend at a pay phone at a Thornton’s gas station on July 6, 2004, after having dropped off an employment application at a nearby Wendy’s restaurant. The line was disconnected when the friend answered, and Dattilo has never been heard from again.
Hoffman also has four brothers, but she is the only sibling still living in Madison, so when the news broke of missing loved ones being found, she knew the drill.
And she was right.
The Louisville and Indianapolis TV and radio stations began calling, and she was interviewed by area newspaper reporters as well to get her family’s reaction. WAVE-3 TV traveled to Madison to interview Hoffman; 84 WHAS Radio interviewed her over the telephone; another TV network affiliate in Indianapolis – she could not even remember the name – interviewed her.
Could it happen for the Dattilos? Would Molly Dattilo ever be found, they asked?
“It was a whirlwind week for me because the reporters started calling me on Wednesday (May 8), then I had to leave for a two-day field trip with my daughter to Chicago (May 9-10), and then back to Madison on Saturday for the Molly Run (May 11),” Hoffman said. “Then I always have my family members over to my house after the run for a family reunion.”
The annual 5K run and walk for adults and children is in its 32nd year. But it was only the ninth year known as the Molly Run after it was renamed in 2005 following the disappearance of the former Madison high school track and cross country runner. Molly Dattilo still holds several school records at Madison Consolidated High School.
The Molly Run, organized by a committee led by Madison resident Paul Kelly, promotes running among elementary school children and raises money for local track scholarships. Proceeds from the event were initially provided to the family to hire a private investigator. This year’s race attracted more than 1,000 runners, and Hoffman and all but one of her siblings participated. In fact, the siblings carry on a friendly but serious rivalry over who will win each year.
“Over the years, since I am the only one still living in Madison, I have sort of become the spokesperson for the family when missing persons stories come up,” said Hoffman, 35, who is married to Dan Hoffman. The couple has two children, Ryan, 13, and Rachael, 10.
Their mother, Cherie Dattilo, is now 74 and does not give interviews to the media, Hoffman said. Their father, Fred, died in 2005. So Hoffman, her siblings and one cousin, Keri Dattillo of Indianapolis, are the ones often conducting the interviews.
“I used to get very emotional and hold out a lot of hope that we would someday find Molly. But after so many years, you sort of learn to not let yourself get too caught up in the emotion and just be happy for the families who did find their missing loved ones. My sisters and cousin and I do not agree on everything, and that is fine. But I personally do not believe that Molly is still alive. It’s sort of like buying a lottery ticket: you hope that you will win, but you know that you probably won’t.”
Including the annual 5K run and walk, Molly Dattilo’s legacy lives on.
In 2007, urged by the Dattilo family’s campaigning, the Indiana Legislature passed “Molly Dattilo’s Law,” which provides procedures and guidelines for law enforcement to follow in missing adult cases.
Then in 2010, the Dattilo family won a $3.5 million judgment against two men it claims were involved in Molly’s disappearance. A default judgment was ordered in Marion County Superior Court against state prison inmate John Shelton and his father, Edward Shelton of Avon, Ind. The lawsuit claimed the men had attacked Dattilo, possibly causing her death. Neither of the men has been charged with her disappearance. Shelton is still in prison, and his father’s whereabouts are unknown.
“We have met dozens of families of missing loved ones over the years through various missing persons organizations because of what happened to Molly,” Hoffman said. “The last time we went through this was when Jill Behrman’s was found.”
Behrman, of Bloomington, Ind., was a college student who went missing in 2000 at age 19 while riding her bicycle. Her partial remains were found three years later in Morgan County. Although a confession was obtained in the case in 2002 from Ellettsville resident Wendy Owings, it was later recanted, leading to the controversial arrest and conviction of Ellettsville man John R. Myers II.
Hoffman said that in the early years of her sister’s disappearance, she expected that the case would be solved one way or another after about three years, like Behrman. “For a while there, every time a body was found, I would get very excited. But it took forever for the authorities to identify the remains and complete the investigation. It was an emotional roller coaster, and one that I now try to avoid.
“I never thought in my wildest dreams that this would still be going on this long,” she continued. “So that’s why I think the way I do about Molly. I’m just trying to be realistic and be a source of hope for other families with missing loved ones.”
One bright spot for Hoffman and her family today is the Molly Run. It not only brings their family members together, but they are given the opportunity to share with the community a sense of hope, while also promote running to children, she said.
“The event embodies Molly’s spirit because people are cheering just as hard for the last kid to come across the finish line as the first ones,” she said. “It empowers kids to get involved in running when they otherwise may not.”
Hoffman was already in college when her younger sister, Molly, was setting those running records at MCHS. But Hoffman did attend a state high school track meet one year to watch her sister compete. “Most teams like to stay to themselves at those meets, but I was surprised to see how many people Molly knew from other teams. She was always encouraging them to do their best. And that’s why I love the Molly Run. It encourages people, young and old, to do their best.”
And that is one legacy of Molly Dattilo that her big sister can live with.
Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout.
Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.