It was Sunday morning, Father’s Day on June 17, 2007, and the family of Kareem Jamaal Ward were at home planning a dinner for later that day at his sister’s house.
Ward’s mother, Ann Warren, said she remembers that morning he was outside excitedly playing with his pitbull puppy and talking to his cousin in the yard.
About 10 a.m. that day, the 23-year-old got a phone call and left his mom’s house.
Ward didn’t say where he was going, but said he would return in time for dinner.
Hours ticked off the clock, daylight turned to darkness and calls to Ward’s cellphone went to voicemail.
The family assumed Ward went to visit his girlfriend, where he had recently spent a lot of time, and lost track of time.
But Ward never came back.
It wasn’t until the following day when Horry County police came to their home that Warren knew her only son hadn’t lost track of time with his girlfriend.
The officer told Ann Warren and her daughter, Sharhonda Warren, that Ward’s car had been pulled from the Pee Dee River after it was found submerged at a boat landing off Gunters Lake Road in the Galivants Ferry area.
Police told the family that some recently installed audio sound equipment had been stripped from the car before it was submerged, Sharhonda Warren said. Her brother’s cellphone was in the car, but the SIM card was missing and there was no trace of Ward.
“The area was searched for days and nothing turned up. The police had claimed to have gotten leads to his possible whereabouts but nothing turned up,” Sharhonda Warren said. “The disappearance of my brother was extremely hard on my entire family.”
Like a few other families in Horry County, the Warrens continue to wait for answers about what happened to him.
“I want this to be over with, but it’s not on my time. It seems like a dream I’ve never woken up from. It seems like it’s not real, but I have to accept the fact that it is. It’s been a long, hard struggle and we’re still struggling,” Ann Warren said Friday. “I wished he was here now to have the chance to raise his child. He took too many people as his friend, maybe got in with the wrong crowd. I do pray that justice will prevail and the Lord will bring whomever to light and we can find out what went on and we can go on with things.”
“Everything has been on hold without him,” Ann Warren said, her voice trailing off to a near whisper. “Easter, my birthday, his sister’s birthday, July Fourth and his birthday on July 27 were days that excited him. He would always make a little something big then, now they’re not the same.”
The Warrens know how the family of Heather Elvis, a 20-year-old who was last seen in the Myrtle Beach area on Dec. 17, are struggling for answers and clues about their daughter.
“We all are still coping with the loss of my brother,” Sharhonda Warren said. “When someone experiences a void like this, it never seems to get better; however, we are dealing with it and we are trying to live our lives as normal as possible.”
Ward’s case remains open and unsolved with Horry County police.
But for his family, Ward’s absence also means a little girl has never met her father.
Ward’s girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, Na’Asia, in September of 2007, nearly three months to the day of his disappearance.
Ann Warren said she had a dream before Ward disappeared that his girlfriend was pregnant, that she gave birth to a girl and that the baby looked just like her son. Ann Warren said she confronted her son about the premonition just before he disappeared that June, but he denied that the woman was pregnant.
“She’s never got to see him, no more than pictures and what she hears people saying about him. She’s a beautiful child, but it’s hard because she’s between me and her mother trying to raise her, tell her about him,” Ann Warren said. “If she would have been here already, he would have slowed up his lifestyle because he would’ve wanted a child. He loved children and got his two nieces anything they wanted if their mommy and daddy didn’t get it.”
Sharhonda Warren said photos and stories along with a tree planted in her mother’s front yard and annual memorials for her brother are all her niece knows of her father.
“We all play a part in making certain that his daughter knows him,” Sharhonda Warren said. “The holidays are the worst for us but we still acknowledge him and pray. We pray that we may get the chance to see him again. We pray that someone has enough heart to come forward with some information that could lead us to him. We pray for understanding because we don’t understand why this had to happen to him because my brother had a heart of gold and he trusted people sometimes way too much. Most of all we pray for peace because not only do we need it but he does, if he is not amongst us, we would like to lay him to rest peacefully and with dignity.”
Ward’s nieces, ages 16 and 18 now, also help encourage the family with their singing talents because Ward loved music, the family said.
“He always helped me with my girls and he encouraged them to do great in school so that they can make it in life. They both remember this and are holding on to the promise of making him proud,” Sharhonda Warren said.
Ward’s disappearance was the second tragedy the family experienced, Sharhonda Warren said. When her brother was 4 months old Sharhonda Warren said their only sister died of sickle cell anemia in November 1984, which devastated their mother.
“We’ve realized that the pain isn’t going to go away. It’s not. It’s hard to tell a family that they are experiencing a void like this that it’s going to get better,” Sharhonda Warren said. “The most that we can do is turn to God for answers. My heart goes out to everybody going through this.”
Contact TONYA ROOT at 444-1723 or follow her on Twitter @tonyaroot.