As cars rumbled by, Catherine Kambuga sat in a chair on the University Avenue sidewalk in East Palo Alto Saturday morning and held a poster of her missing sister, hoping it would help.
Tears streamed down her face. Her sister, Wamaitha Kaboga-Miller, 66, of Palo Alto, vanished without a trace on Aug. 17 after stopping by the Country Time Market in East Palo Alto, kitty corner to the sidewalk where Kambuga was holding vigil.
"It's very, very hard," Kambuga said of the disappearance of her younger sister, with whom she grew up in Kenya. "I can't sleep."
Kambuga hopes someone, somewhere will be able to find her.
On Saturday, Kambuga wasn't the only one with that wish. Family friends, ex-co-workers and even strangers moved by the family's pleas turned out for a search party for Kaboga-Miller, organized by her family.
Palo Alto residents Kristen and Kat Snyder, who live in the same neighborhood as Kaboga-Miller but do not know her, heard about the search effort through an email list.
"They asked for help," Kristen Snyder said simply, when asked why they were volunteering their time.
According to the missing woman's older son, Njoroge Kaboga-Miller, the family consulted with a private investigator to strategize the daylong search for his mother and her car, a silver 2002 Mercedes-Benz CLK coupe with license plate DP241LU. It was last seen exiting the Country Time Market and driving east on University.
Dozens of volunteers Saturday were sent to canvass the blocks immediately adjacent to the Country Time Market as well as to the Palo Alto Baylands. In addition to posting and handing out flyers, searchers were instructed to look in all parking lots and also for signs of a car driving off the road, such as tire tracks and broken branches.
In the neighborhood, volunteers fanned out, walking past the old Open Bible Baptist Church, over to the new neighborhood of townhomes and by the stalwart nonprofit Ecumenical Hunger Program.
Sondra Bishop and Catherine DeLuca of Menlo Park were among those handing out flyers and peering down long driveways in search of the car.
Residents they talked to are concerned, they said, but no one has heard or seen anything.
"Everyone's mystified," Bishop said, adding that she could identify with Kaboga-Miller, who stopped by the market on a quick errand wearing her pajamas and a black puffy vest.
"We've all gone out in PJs," Bishop said as she carried a stack of 11x17-inch "MISSING" posters featuring a smiling Kaboga-Miller.
DeLuca agreed. "You think you're going to be gone five minutes," she said. "It could be any one of us."
In the baylands, where a constant parade of airplanes to and from the Palo Alto Airport thrummed overhead, volunteer searchers expressed similar mystification.
In scouring the scrub brush and grasses lining the marshland, a group of Kaboga-Miller's former co-workers found small miscellaneous items, including clothing. As instructed, they called in their observations to the search organizers.
But nothing seemed to relate to Kaboga-Miller, said one man. Others wondered aloud if enough surveillance videos in the area have been reviewed to track her movements on Aug. 17.
Although it has been years since they were all colleagues at Epigram, a startup where Kaboga-Miller worked in procurement, they recalled her sociable and happy nature.
"She is a great lady," said a co-worker who declined to give his name. "We're just trying to find her or find some clue."
The Palo Alto Police Department is the lead agency in the search for Kaboga-Miller. On Saturday, her younger son, Clovis Kaboga-Miller, said that a sergeant and two other officers were searching Bayfront Expressway from East Palo Alto to Redwood City for signs of his mother or her car. The Menlo Park Fire Department used a drone team on Friday to look for her, her son said.
Going off on her own is uncharacteristic, said her eldest sister, Wamboi Lipari, who on Saturday also waved a "missing" poster as cars drove past on University.
"It's not like her," Lipari said. "If she traveled, she kept in touch."
Njoroge Kaboga-Miller said the family was grateful for the outpouring of help Saturday, noting that people said they came from southern California and Phoenix to join in the search.
"It's shocking; I'm speechless," he said, as late-arriving volunteers stood in line awaiting their assignments. "It's good to know people really care."
Helping others is part of their family culture, and his mother is a prime example of that, he noted.
"She likes to help people. If she wasn't missing, she'd be looking out for other people who were missing."
Anyone with information about Kaboga-Miller's disappearance is asked to contact the Palo Alto Police Department at 650-329-2413 or the family at 650-814-1189, or to email [email protected] Anonymous tips can be emailed to the police at [email protected] or sent by text message or voicemail to 650-383-8984.