One Partner’s Journey…Finding Lauren

Sometimes the measure of a successful accounting firm has nothing to do with its skills managing numbers and everything to do with the resources it brings to bear in a crisis.

And some crises have nothing to do with clients. One year ago, Robert Spierer, a tax partner at New York City-based Perelson Weiner (FY11 net revenue of $18.1 million), received the phone call that is every parent’s nightmare. His daughter Lauren, a petite 20-year-old, blue-eyed Indiana University student, had gone missing.

Local and national news media reported the story, publishing and broadcasting the image of Lauren’s sunny face and describing a full-of-life sophomore who had disappeared from a seemingly safe college town in the heart of the Midwest.

Some numbers do matter in this story: May 8, 2011, Mothers Day, marked one year, 365 days, since Spierer and his wife, Charlene, last saw their daughter. The early morning of June 3, 2011 was the last time Lauren’s whereabouts were confirmed. She was reportedly last seen in the area of 11th Street and College Avenue in Bloomington, after a night out with friends.

The Spierers dropped their lives in New York and rushed to Indiana to begin a new, unimaginable chapter in their lives. And nearly every member of the firm followed in time, assisting in a massive search for their colleague’s daughter.

Thousands participated in the effort, combing through wooded areas, streams and lakes from dawn to dusk. Some of Spierer’s colleagues stayed in Indiana for extended periods; others made multiple trips back and forth. Some firms within IGAF Polaris, Perelson Weiner’s professional association, made donations and members from around the country flew to Indiana to help with the search, and to offer any and all support they could.

“That was, of course, incredibly supportive,” Spierer recalls. “Unfortunately, I was unable to give any attention to any one person or group who came out because it was a terribly difficult and hectic time.”

“Rob and I have been together for 30 years,” MP Ronald Weiner tells IPA, “and we have shared a lot of experiences together. Most of them have been very, very good before this tragedy. And in the view of our firm, family always comes first – it’s really quite simple – and all actions have flowed out of that.”

Spierer, who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., spent the first 90 days after Lauren’s disappearance in Bloomington.

Despite the tragedy, Weiner says of Spierer: “His sense of client responsibility never left him.” The firm made sure Spierer’s clients’ needs were met, Weiner says. “Each of us stepped up, pitched in and helped out and did what was needed.” Spierer periodically visited clients, but also accepted offers of help and was able to spend much of 2011 in Indiana.

While the official search for Lauren ended months ago, the Spierers are working with the Bloomington Police Department and a private investigator to gather more information about their daughter’s whereabouts. 

The Spierers have not given up hope of finding their daughter, although they’ve conceded in recent months that it’s unlikely she’s still alive. Their work today extends beyond solving the mystery of their daughter’s disappearance to educating others about protecting themselves.

“I just hope that students around the country are being careful about who they spend their time with, and are careful about getting themselves home safely and watching out for each other and making that an important aspect of their social interaction,” Spierer says.

Those who care about Lauren’s disappearance can make a direct impact on the lives of others by supporting safety initiatives in their local communities, Spierer says. He encourages others to join efforts to stop drunk driving or prevent drug use, for example, or support legislation that strengthens safety measures.

Rob and Charlene Spierer joined with student government associations to lobby for passage of the Indiana Lifeline Law, which Gov. Mitch Daniels signed into law in early May. The statute addresses the fact that, too often, young people don’t make a call for help in a life-threatening situation for fear of the legal repercussions, sending the message that medical care is the top priority.

The law provides immunity for some alcohol-related offenses, such as underage drinking or public intoxication, to those who request medical assistance for someone in need. The law also covers those who receive medical assistance due to a request by someone else. The caller must cooperate with police. The Department of Health says that more than two dozen Indiana residents under the age of 21 have died due to alcohol poisoning since 2004.

Spierer says that if the law were in place when his daughter disappeared “it’s certainly possible” that the events of June 3, 2011 would have ended differently. “Part of it goes to the character of the individuals you are with,” he says. “They have to care enough about you as a person to even reach out for help. If you’re unfortunately with people who don’t know you, who don’t care about you, this lifeline law isn’t going to help you.”

He believes “without a doubt” that someone knows what happened to his daughter. Numerous appeals have been made to get answers, “but unfortunately, our efforts have been unsuccessful, and we’re hoping that person will one day have a crisis of conscience and help us find our daughter.”

Spierer describes Lauren as a loving, fun person with a zest for life. She enjoys fashion, and attended many concerts with her father, as she appreciates the music of the ’60s and ’70s. She has a special place in her heart for the elderly. “I can always see her lovingly looking at an older couple being happy together, it really touched her heart,” Spierer says. “Lauren is just as wonderful a daughter as a father could wish for.”

Lauren’s sister, Rebecca, like her parents, has Lauren on her mind constantly. She earned a master’s degree in social work and works in New York City.

As the one-year anniversary of Lauren’s disappearance approaches, the media spotlight has once again turned on the case and the Spierers’ lives. “We live with this every day,” Spierer says. “It doesn’t go away, but there are some days that are more difficult than others.”

On June 3, “We’ll be together with family and we’ll get through it together.” Partners and staff at Perelson Weiner, and staff and member firm colleagues of IGAF Polaris continue to support the Spierers in whatever way they can.

“We are all family” is a sentiment heard often by those who are close to the Spierers.

Being there to help with the search, to lend an ear, to support client relationships, to pray for Lauren’s return and to help put the pieces of “normal” back together are just some of the ways that friends and colleagues of the Spierers will continue to support the family through this life-changing experience.

After all, at the end of the day, some things are more important than the numbers.