“That morning I told her I loved her before she went off to school,” Peggy, 64, remembers. “Later, I went to the shops and bought Gordana a top that I thought would look lovely on her. I put it on her bed before I went off to work so it’d be a nice surprise when she got home.”
Sadly, Gordana, then 16, never got to wear that top.
That Thursday after school, Gordana – who her family describe as their shining light, and a bubbly teen full of love and laughter – went late-night shopping with friends and was walking back from Charlestown Square shopping centre, near Newcastle, NSW, to her aunt Sonya’s house, when around 8.45pm she was seen being forced into a vehicle on Powell Street (where her aunt lives).
Gordana never made it home. Her abduction led to extensive police searches and investigations, but all were in vain – it was as though she’d disappeared into thin air.
“The most horrendous thoughts go through your mind,” Peggy tells New Idea, as she casts her mind back to those first few weeks after Gordana was snatched.
Peggy and her husband Branko tried to remain strong for their two other children, Carolina, then 22, and Damien, then 11 – who had to grow up in the shadow of their sister’s disappearance – but it was tough.
“I felt so numb at the time,” she says, adding that she and Branko later split. “As time passes, the pain of having a missing child never fades, it gets worse.”
As the weeks turned into months and years, countless leads resulted in dead ends and, as Peggy believes, a series of police blunders resulted in Gordana’s case remaining unsolved.
In 2019, hope was renewed when Lake Macquarie detectives established Strike Force Arapaima to re-examine the investigation into Gordana’s disappearance, and called on those who hold the secrets that can unlock the mystery of the teen’s whereabouts to come forward – of course, the effort garnered Peggy’s unwavering support.
“If you know anything about what happened to my daughter, please speak up,” Peggy pleads. “Put yourself in my shoes, how would you feel if it was your child missing?”
For now, though, as Christmas fast approaches, it’s a more sombre than celebratory affair for Peggy.
“I try to stay busy between now and January,” she says, to take her thoughts away from the emptiness she feels due to Gordana’s absence.
Yet, for this matriarch – who has since remarried – family remains everything.
“I take one step at a time,” she says. “Sometimes it’s half a step, but I keep moving forward. I find a lot of happiness in spending time with my family – my four grandchildren and great-granddaughter bring me so much joy.
“And I’ll always have my memories of Gordana – as a family we speak about her all the time. It’s just a shame there are no more memories to make.”
Sadly though, time is not a friend for loved ones who have disappeared – memories can fade and all too soon a child can become a statistic as the world moves on, but not for Peggy.
“My daughter is not a statistic – no missing person is,” says Peggy, adamantly. “She was the light of our lives and I will never stop searching for answers. My family will always keep her memory alive so her light forever shines bright.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
To contact state and territory Missing Persons Units, visit missingpersons.gov.au/report/missing-persons-units.
For more information, visit:
Australian Federal Police National Missing Persons Coordination Centre: missingpersons.gov.au,
Missing Persons Advocacy Network: mpan.com.au,
or Leave A Light On Inc: facebook.com/LeaveALightOninc.