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At Prayer Service, Family, Friends Of Duesterhaus 'Wrestle With Situation That Doesn't Make Sense'

Community prepares for possible "long period of reflection" after son, friend, teacher disappears

Tom Duesterhaus was never one for accolades: He taught, worked with troubled youth and served in community organizations because that’s just who he was; that’s what he thought he was supposed to do, his father Rich said.

So he would likely never dream of the scene that unfolded at on Tuesday night, where a few hundred family members and friends gathered to pray for a sign that their missing son, brother, teacher and friend was okay.

“I believe we also have to recognize that Tom would not have expected this kind of outpouring of support for him. Tom would just expect us to go on with our own everyday responsibilities,” Rich Duesterhaus said from the altar toward the end of the service. “I think we need to be prepared for him to be gone for a longer period, a period of reflection on his part. When he’s ready, we’ll welcome him back, so he can continue what was a life ministry for him,” Rich said.

The 37-year-old Vienna native . He was spotted three times in Virginia Beach in the two days that followed.

Bishop O'Connell High School administrators confirmed on Saturday It's not clear when Duesterhaus, who began teaching English at the school in 1999, was told about the decision. Rich Duesterhaus

Rich Duesterhaus said he gets daily reports from the lead detective on the case. He said Police also think Tom is alive and spending time alone somewhere; they think they may find him when his car –which has not been recovered– turns up, Duesterhaus said.

As friends and current and former O’Connell students learned of Duesterhaus’ disappearance, they wished –s – for some way to gather with each other, parents and Duesterhaus’ former colleagues, to pray for his safe return and find support as they search for answers.

As of Tuesday night, the group "Find Tom Duesterhaus" had more than 1,800 members.

For many, Tuesday night’s prayer service was a refuge, Father Jack Peterson said. A mass is a safe haven, a gathering of a presence, and in that way it is a comfort as well, he said; a place to “wrestle with situations that just don’t make sense.”

“Tom has touched so many people in so many ways … All of us have felt pain from his recent disappearance,” said Peterson, who manages the home Duesterhaus shares with other Youth Apostles.

Peterson read a quote from a bible passage he found on the door to Duesterhaus' room, which he said may console some in attendance:

“Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again, Rejoice! Everyone should see how unselfish you are. The Lord is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude. Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hears and mind, in Christ Jesus.”

The somber, but hopeful, service evoked a range of emotions from family and friends: Confusion. Fear. Anxiety.Worry. Anger.

For others, Duesterhaus’ disappearance has created an immediate, noticeable void, one that was once filled with a friendly, guitar-playing, occasionally long-haired friend. For Brian Dunleavy, a Youth Apostle who lived in a community house Duesterhaus managed at George Mason University, that void began on June 18, less than 24 hours after Tom disappeared, when he attended a friend's wedding that Tom would have been at, too.

“Tom is the life of any wedding. He’s always the last one on the dance floor. He would have been there with me until the very end of the last song,” Dunleavy, 27, said.

The two last spoke on the Tuesday before Duesterhaus' Friday disappearance. He and Dunleavy, who also teaches in the diocese, talked about summer plans.

“I asked him what he was doing during the summer and he said [the usual]. He didn’t mention anything out of the ordinary ... just reading a million books like he always does," Dunleavy said. “I just want him to come back."

A member of the female Youth Apostles community, to whom Duesterhaus was a liaison, said he would be surprised at how many people have stories like Dunleavy’s.

“I don’t think he knows how much people miss him,” she said.

To watch video clips from the service, click the video in the media player to the right of this article.

Current and former Bishop O'Connell students are also planning a candle light "wishing" vigil at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Tuckahoe Park.

Susanna Ryan Corbo July 07, 2011 at 12:37 AM
How easy it is to formulate a tidy analysis, as Mr. Giunta has done. That does not mean it's correct, or completely so, or as simple as Mr. Giunta would have it. It is human nature to speculate, but out of respect for Tom, I respectfully object to such a glib summation which, in addition to carrying more than a hint of blame, leaves no room for the nuances of the human mind and the ways of suffering, and other factors of which we are unaware.

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