'We can't wait': Families of missing Waukesha, Illinois women move ahead with private search effort

’We can’t wait’: Families of missing Waukesha, Illinois women move ahead with private search effort

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The families of two missing American women in Panama, including one woman from Waukesha, have resorted to conducting  search efforts on their own as the U.S. government has not provided additional support needed for recovery.

Debra Velleman of Waukesha and Sue Borries of Illinois have been missing since Jan. 3 when a plane they were on crashed off the coast of Panama. The Panamanian government has led search efforts for the two missing retired school teachers, but the resources of the Central American country have been exhausted. With hope for help from the U.S. government fading, families say they are searching for their loved ones on their own.

"To continue to be fed a line that they are reviewing the request really is insulting to us at this point," said Jake Velleman, Debra's son who is in Panama continuing the search effort.

The families of the missing women said they are frustrated with the lack of response from the U.S. and have had to look elsewhere for help.

We can't wait, sit around and wait for our government to do the right thing," Velleman said. "We have no choice, in our view, [but] to enlist the help of these charitable organizations to help in this search."

That includes Bruce's Legacy, a nonprofit volunteer organization based out of Black River Falls, Wis. The group provides search and recovery operations for drowned victims to provide resolution for families, according to their website. Along with boats and equipment, the organization is providing expertise in coordinating the recovery.

"We have been basically dealing with all those logistics and that's been exhausting and very challenging, so we're really grateful to them," Velleman said.

While the State Department has not moved forward with providing additional resources, Wisconsin leaders Governor Tony Evers, Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congressman Scott Fitzgerald have urged more action. Most recently, Congressman Bryan Steil joined the others in calling for help for the families. Steil wrote a letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Jan. 21.

In the letter, Steil wrote, "Our U.S. citizens overseas, as well as their families, should not be neglected by our own government during times of crisis."

Velleman said he was thankful for the state leaders' help in trying to mobilize resources.

"We're really grateful," Jake Velleman said. "My faith in government, but for their efforts, has been completely shattered."

Debra's husband, Anthony, survived the crash and is currently recovering in Waukesha after being treated at UW Health University Hospital in Madison.

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