Search Mounts for American Teacher Missing in Japan

PHOTO Monty Dickson is a 26-year-old American teacher missing in Japan.PlayCourtesy of Ian Dickson
WATCH American Teacher Missing in Japan

Monty Dickson's family has been on "Japan time" since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami ravaged the city where Dickson teaches and lives.

"We sleep sporadically when we can and not much," Gloria Shriver, the mother-in-law of Dickson's sister, said. "We're all having a very hard time."

Dickson, who is from Alaska, hasn't been heard from since the tsunami struck Japan. He is a teacher with JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program where university graduates sign contracts with local governments in Japan to teach English at Japanese schools.

"We're still looking for him and still looking for information on him," said Matthew Gillam from the New York branch of the Japan Local Government Center.

Dickson's family are among a dwindling number of Americans clinging to hope as the hunt for survivors is now nearly two weeks old and search efforts are petering out. The State Department now says it is focusing on less than 10 cases of Americans unaccounted for in the hardest hit areas of Japan. Those cases came to their attention from loved ones like Dickson's family.

In the days following the quake, those numbers were much higher, but as electricity was turned on and cities began to rebuild, loved ones established contact with their missing relatives.

Dickson teaches in the small fishing village called Rikuzentakata. It's located in the Iwate Prefecture, one of the hardest hit regions.

Monty Dickson, 26, is missing in the aftermath of Japan tsunami (Courtesy of Ian Dickson)

Gloria Shriver's Anchorage, Alaska, home has become command central in the search for Dickson. She is the mother-in-law of Dickson's sister, Shelley Frederickson. The two, along with Dickson's brother, Ian, spend hours online searching for tips about the young man and calling officials to check in on the progress. Relatives in Hawaii and even England are helping in the search.

Frederickson became Dickson's legal guardian when both of his parents died as a child.

The family last spoke to Dickson March 8, but his Japanese girlfriend spoke to Dickson in the hour after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the island on March 11, but before the massive tsunami hit.

Dickson told her that he and his students had evacuated to the town's civic center.

"It was a three story steel and concrete building in town and it's the only building that's left standing, but water did reach the third floor," Shriver said.

Huge waves struck the town of 23,000 people. At least 3,000 people have died in Iwate Prefecture, Japan's broadcaster, NHK, reported. More than 700 people have died in Rikuzentakata and nearly one in 10 are feared dead, according to media reports. Dickson was the only American teacher in the village.

Air Force Convoy Searches For Monty Dickson

Dickson's girlfriend biked through the town searching for him only to find his apartment building destroyed.

"When we started seeing photos come out of Rikuzentakata, we really panicked," Shriver said.

On March 15, the family heard a report that he had made it to the civic center. The same day, they also got a report that he was alive at a junior high school.

"It's confusing. It's horrible. It's up and down and we're still hopeful we're going to find him, but we also understand the devastation and the horrible pain that everyone in Japan is going through," Shriver said.

The family speaks daily with the consulate.

An Air Force convoy was launched to search for Dickson in Rikuzentakata, but pulled out last weekend.

"They had to pull out Saturday because they ran out of fuel and supplies and will not be returning...all search and recovery will be taken over by Japanese authorities," Shriver said.

Shriver said the family hasn't decided if they will head to Japan to search for the young man.

"The destruction is so devastating that we would probably only be in the way," she said.

Monty Dickson, 26, in his college graduation photo (Courtesy of Ian Dickson)

Bryan Olsson lives in Tokyo and is one of Dickson's friends who have posted on Google's people finder searching for the young man.

"Monty was always easygoing and fairly calm...He really enjoyed Japan and you could always sense his enthusiasm for living and working Japan."

Olsson helped train Dickson for the JET teaching program when he first arrived in Japan two years ago.

Olsson said that Dickson loves to bike.

"He was really enthusiastic about his town and had only good things to say about it...he had biked around his area quite a bit and also made a pretty close friendship with a family there," Olsson said.

JET Families Help in Search for Dickson

Karen Nagyiski knows exactly what the family and friends of Dickson are experiencing. Her 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Besecker, was missing for seven days in Miyagi Prefecture. She too is a JET teacher.

"Your days and nights roll into one another, you're scanning the internet, watching the news hoping you'll see her in a piece of footage," Nagyiski said.

Besecker posted on her Facebook wall in the moments after the quake that she was fine, but no one heard from her following the tsunami.

Her family, like Dickson's, received conflicting reports about whether she was safe or not.

"I had a good feeling she was ok, but you never know. You're half a world away and the lack of information coming out of there is really tough," Nagyiski said.

jessica Besecker, 24, was missing for seven days. (Courtesy of Karen Nagyiski and Jessica Besecker)

The family launched a Facebook campaign from their Delaware home, "Where in Japan is Jessica Besecker," and worked with the State Department and Consulate to try and find their daughter.

They traded tips with the family of Taylor Anderson, the JET teacher from Virginia found dead earlier this week.

"These [JET] kids are close, they work together, they spend their holidays together, their free time together and I think it's important for our families to reach out to one another during these times," Nagyiski said.

The family's Facebook campaign spread word to a woman in Japan who repeatedly called a school that had turned into an evacuation center in Miyagi. Eventually, Besecker picked up the call.

"My daughter said that her heart just dropped because she knew that we didn't know she was safe," Nagyiski said.

In the days after the tsunami, Besecker camped outside because of the aftershocks. She eventually stayed at an evacuation shelter. She just got electricity back to her apartment, but has no water.

Several of her fellow teachers watched all of their possessions wash away. They are all going to cram into Besecker's apartment as the town rebuilds.

Besecker has joined the search for Dickson, going to his town to search for him.

"My daughter got in a car and drove up to his area. She said it was so devastated, there was debris on the bridge and the only thing they found was relief workers," Nagyiski said.