VILONIA, Ark. — People in Faulkner County are desperate for help finding April Burkle. She has been missing for more than a week – the latest in a string of traumatic experiences for her family.
“Our number one goal is just to find her and bring her home safely,” Alexis Cauthen said Tuesday evening. “But we need help.”
Burkle was last seen in Toronto on October 21. “That’s been the hardest thing,” Cauthen explained, “is us being so far away.”
Cauthen used to be Burkle’s neighbor and remains her friend. They got to know each other because their children were close.
“We were the kind of friends you expect moms to be of kids who were very, very close and who live next door to one another. And so, our friendship kind of slowly developed as our boys were friends. But then, obviously, once the tornado happened—and my husband was integral in finding and rescuing April and Daniel—and at that time, we became so close. It almost was, we felt like sisters.”
Their homes were destroyed by the EF-4 tornado that hit Vilonia on April 27, 2014. Burkle, known as April Smith at the time, was badly injured, but her two sons both died.
Cauthen said Burkle’s faith helped her deal with her loss. “When she finally could walk, when she was finally out of the wheelchair, she booked speaking events at area churches,” she said. “And she had a heart for grieving mothers, and she ministered to them, and she loved on them, and she spoke about her experience.”
But Cauthen recalled how Burkle’s pain and strength coexisted and took control of her at different times.
“All those that were closest to her,” Cauthen mentioned, “kept telling her, ‘you know, it’s okay to no be okay.’ And she had those moments and she struggled.
“Obviously, we can’t judge anyone for how they respond to the kind of trauma that’s been through. There were times that she would, obviously, need some time to herself. But she was always, always in contact with at least one or two of her closest friends or family. And never, ever without being in contact with her mom. Ever. Her mom is deaf, and April helps take care of her. April and Mary are best friends. There’s no way that she would go even a day or two without talking to her mom.”
Burkle, who moved to Houston roughly one year ago, left on vacation on October 10. She planned to spend time with a friend in Hamilton, Ontario.
“Obviously, she was suffering from some PTSD, as many from this area are after the tornado,” Cauthen said, “and everything that she had been through. We don’t know if maybe the airplane trip triggered something, you know, as she was traveling, but when she got there, basically, she refused to go with her friend.”
Instead, Burkle got in a cab and checked into a hotel, which is the last time any of her friends or family heard from her. Cauthen said her closest friends and relatives got worried within a couple of days, but decided there was an emergency on October 23, Burkle’s birthday, when she did not respond to any of the messages they left for her.
After Burkle was reported missing, Toronto police officers noted that they had seen her on October 21. When they searched for a man who had walked away from a behavioral health hospital, they found her with him. According to Cauthen, officers brought her to their substation because they felt she had a calming influence on him. But without any reason to be concerned about her, they let her go.
“The last place she was seen was Toronto, but we’re not 100 percent sure that’s still where she is,” Cauthen stated. “She honestly could be anywhere.”
Cauthen said the FBI agreed Tuesday to join the search. She said street ministries in Toronto have helped, as well, canvassing the city and posting flyers. She refuses to believe that her friend is in danger, though, because of the strength she has seen Burkle display over the last five years.
“And so, I do believe,” Cauthen said, “that, wherever she is, that she’s continuing in prayer and that the Lord will lead us to find her and bring her back to her home safe.”
Cauthen said police officers have received several tips, but none that led to Burkle. She mentioned that Burkle has a tattoo on her wrist of the sign language symbol for love, with wings on either side. She also has a sunflower tattoo on her shoulder and a nose ring.
“If you see someone you think might be April, maybe look for those little features,” Cauthen said, “and if you see her, just please, please, please call us. Please let us know.”
Cauthen suggested Burkle might head to Houston or central Arkansas if she is no longer in Toronto. A local number has been set up for anyone with information about Burkle’s location. The number is 501-269-0770, and it accepts calls or texts.