Family and friends will hold a search party on Saturday to try to locate 66-year-old Wamaitha Kaboga-Miller, a Palo Alto woman who disappeared on Friday, Aug. 17. They are asking for community volunteers to help find her.
Kaboga-Miller left her Crescent Park home in her silver 2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK at about 9:15 a.m. and drove to the Country Time Market at 2200 University Ave. in East Palo Alto, where she was seen purchasing cigarettes on surveillance video. Since that time, no one has seen her and she has not communicated with her family, her son Njoroge Kaboga-Miller said.
The search party will meet at 9 a.m. at the East Palo Alto Family YMCA, 550 Bell St. and will have a station set up in the parking lot facing University Avenue. The station will be open all day with maps and flyers for anyone who wants to join.
The Palo Alto Baylands will be a large focus of the search, organizers said.
Kaboga-Miller's disappearance has baffled her family, who have described her as a woman who didn't like to drive and was mostly comfortable hanging out with her sisters at home or visiting relatives.
Just about everything Kaboga-Miller did after leaving her Crescent Park home shortly after 9:15 a.m. that day seems out of character for the mother of two grown sons, Njoroge Kaboga-Miller said.
The home's alarm system, which records the opening and closing of the door, showed that on Friday morning her husband, Kemp Kaboga-Miller, had exited the home to go to work. Shortly thereafter, she exited the house. Surveillance video at the Country Time Market showed Kaboga-Miller, who is disabled, hobbling her way into the store. She purchased two packages of cigarettes for $19, her son said. It took about 15 minutes to complete the purchase and return to her car, he said.
The video shows Kaboga-Miller drive east onto University Avenue toward the Dumbarton Bridge. Her son said that alone was odd.
"She had a fear of the bridge. LPR (license plate readers) didn't ping (the car at the toll plaza). There's no video or footage. She just vanished," he said.
Kaboga-Miller did not take her cellphone, nor the walker she relies on to get around. She had a wallet, but she has not used her debit card. She doesn't drive after dark, and doesn't like to drive in general. For the most part, her husband drives her around or runs errands, her son said. When she did drive, it was close by to visit relatives in Menlo Park or East Palo Alto or to volunteer at the Palo Alto Food Closet located a few blocks away from her home.
"She would never go to Country Time Market. There are too many unsavory people around the area and it is deep into East Palo Alto. She would go to downtown Palo Alto or to the 7-Eleven" if she wanted cigarettes, Njoroge Kaboga-Miller said.
Kaboga-Miller was recovering from back surgery and she can't walk any distance without her walker. She was taking oxycodone for pain from the surgery, which could impair her judgment, but her family saw no signs of depression from using the medicine, he said.
"It was strange that she left so quickly. ... She was last seen in her pajamas and wearing a back brace. She couldn't go anywhere without it. We fear that she's dead or hurt or has possibly driven somewhere without knowing where she is and that she's hungry. She can't walk if her car became disabled or she ran out of gas," he said.
Kaboga-Miller doesn't go anywhere in the evenings, he added. "She likes sitting and talking to her sisters and helping people in need," he said.
Her commitment to homeless and hungry individuals goes back to her own experience growing up in extreme poverty, he said.
Growing up in a small Kenyan farming village, food was very scarce, he said. She grew up without any resources. They subsisted mainly on starches such as potatoes and corn, rarely had vegetables and ate meat only once a year, he said.
Meat was so precious that one time when they were dividing up the annual ration of goat, Kaboga-Miller wrapped her portion in a cloth and stored it in her pocket for later. As she worked around the farm, the meat fell out of the wrapping and into a pile of animal dung, her son said.
"She picked it up and washed it off and ate it," he recalled.
Kaboga-Miller's fortunes changed after she arrived in the Bay Area in the 1970s, living with uncles. She received a scholarship to attend San Jose State University, he said. Kaboga-Miller graduated with a major in communications and minor in business administration, according to her LinkedIn profile. She previously worked in purchasing at Broadcom in San Jose and other tech firms.
The family has searched every place they could think of, from Sunnyvale to San Carlos. They have looked in dikes, in the baylands and the Palo Alto duck pond.
"There are so many different angles. My father is a wreck," he said.
Palo Alto police have said they do not think Kaboga-Miller's disappearance is suspicious. She is described as a 5-foot, 1-inch tall black woman weighing about 120 pounds, according to a missing person flyer. She was last seen wearing a black puffy vest over white long-sleeved shirt and light-colored pajama pants.
Her silver 2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK has California license plate number DP241LU, police said. The vehicle has a handicap placard, according to the missing person flyer.
Search organizers are asking that people come appropriately dressed for searching the baylands and marshy areas. They are asking for adult male volunteers in particular. They will also assign people to hand out flyers. For more information regarding the search, people may contact Wariara at 650-575-9054 and Lilia at 510-393-7734.
Kaboga-Miller's family and friends have published a video seeking the public's assistance to find her.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Palo Alto police did not have any updates regarding her whereabouts. Anyone with information is asked to call the Palo Alto Police Department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.