Vernacular Memorials as a Response to Trauma: The Case of Missing Child Kyron Horman

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Trauma, whether individual or collective, often triggers the impulse to commemorate. Significant scholarship assesses public memorial sites, but increasingly attention has been given to both physical and virtual vernacular memorials that construct an environment for memory preservation. In creating a place set apart from our daily routines, we gain space for the grief process. our interest is in the vernacular space, co-produced by family, friends and strangers who feel the need to have a place for mourning, for negotiating the means of their traumatic loss. one significant variant on the vernacular memorial is the use of the conventionalized form and rituals of roadside shrines to commemorate a child who is missing rather than dead.

800,000 children were reported missing in 2010. Most Cases were resolved quickly because of structural safeguards like the Amber Alert system. on June 4, 2010, Kyron Horman went missing from his school, and remains missing more than two years later, still garnering international attention through a combination of physical and virtual memorial sites. Through a case study of Kyron's physical and virtual memorials, we argue that the traumatic ambiguity of a missing child has lead to a discourse of substitution wherein the act of commemoration (co-production) replaces the traumatic ambiguity of the missing child; commemoration becomes a means, albeit imperfect, for working through both the individual trauma of loss for those who knew Kyron personally and the cultural trauma of loss that the public experiences when structural mechanisms for the protection of children fail.

Kyron's memorials reflect what Foucault terms heterotopias of place and time that intensified through the use of photographs of the missing child. Whether reflecting highly personalized or more generalized cultural trauma, these physical and virtual spaces for memorialization reflect an emerging pattern of rhetorical responses to the trauma of missing children.


The article is the first of a series that investigates photography in the memorialization and trauma of missing children cases.


Missing, Trauma, Photograph, Memorial