By Shereen Siewert

A missing persons advocacy group held an online “Lights of Hope” event Saturday, an effort to support the families of missing people while raising awareness about the nearly 100 missing people statewide.

The event, held Saturday, was an effort by Wisconsin Missing Persons Advocacy, Inc., a nonprofit organization launched by the daughter of Victoria Prokopovitz, who was reported missing in 2013. Her daughter, Marsha Loritz, began her mission to raise awareness for the missing in January 2015 and successfully petitioned then-Gov. Scott Walker to declare April as Missing Persons Awareness Month. The declaration has been made each year since.

The organization does more than just raise awareness. The group brings a voice to families of missing people and works as advocates to increase public knowledge.

This year’s annual awareness event was canceled – for the second straight year – but the advocacy group created a new way to bring hope to families fo the missing. Lights of Hope, held from midnight Saturday morning to midnight Sunday morning, invited participants to light a luminary and share photos on the event’s Facebook page. Some luminaries were lit in honor of specific missing people, while others were acts of support for families of the missing.

On Sunday, Loritz posted a message on the Lights of Hope page thanking participants who lit a luminary and created a unique connection with the families of missing people.

“Many of the participants don’t have a missing loved one but wanted to do something to help,” Loritz wrote. “We hope that the families will let this carry them through those hard days, and that they will be reminded of how many people care.”

Today, 96 people appear on Wisconsin’s Clearinghouse for Missing and Exploited Children and Adults, a page updated regularly by the Wisconsin Dept. of Justice. More than two dozen people are missing in central Wisconsin.

On the Lights of Hope page, Loritz said the tributes were deeply emotional.

“Our missing loved ones have NOT been forgotten,” she wrote. “These beautiful tributes brought tears to my eyes and I could feel the love with each one.”

Learn more about Wisconsin Missing Persons Advocacy, Inc. here.