This is the story of how I discovered that I was the cousin of the only man on Earth who is listed as 'missing' despite his whereabouts being known... The story of Benjaman Kyle, an amnesiac who woke up next to a dumpster of a fast-food restaurant in 2004, without remembering the identity of his friends, family, and most importantly, without knowing who he was. To this day, no one, including the government of the United States, knows who he is. But this year, with a little help from Obama and the White house, this could change...
This story may seem totally absurd and unbelievable. Some will claim that it is a hoax, a joke. However, it is a true story, an amazing and dramatic tale that I've been a part of for a few years now.
After watching a documentary on genetic medicine in 2009 which stimulated my hypochondriac nature, I sent my saliva to an American laboratory to discover if I ran any potential risk to suffer from a genetic disease. The results brought nothing, and I quickly forgot about the whole ordeal.
About a year later, at the end of 2010, I received a message from Colleen Fitzpatrick, a well-known forensic genealogist from the United States, in which she told me I was the third or fourth cousin to a certain Benjaman Kyle. She then asked for my help in her mission to uncover the identity of this man. Fortunately, the laboratory protects anonymity, so she did not know my real identity, or my name. She only knew that my DNA was somehow related to Benjaman Kyle's. At first, I thought that it was some kind of prank, so I ignored the message for several months. But from time to time, I would think about it, and a little voice inside of me would tell me that I should look into it. So, I started inquiring about the incredible and unbelievable enigma of Benjaman Kyle...
Who is Benjaman Kyle?
The easiest way to understand who Benjaman is would be to read his puzzling biography on Wikipedia:
"Benjaman Kyle is the pseudonym adopted by a man who has dissociative amnesia. He was discovered unconscious on August 31, 2004, in Richmond Hill, Georgia and is believed to be about 64 years old. He had been unable to obtain employment without a Social Security number. He is the only American citizen officially listed as missing despite his whereabouts being known.
"Around 6:00 AM EDT on August 31, 2004, a man now living under the name Benjaman Kyle was discovered behind a Burger King at the intersection of Interstate 95 and Highway 17 in Richmond Hill, Georgia. He was found by the managers of the restaurant, lying on the ground inside the stone wall enclosing the dumpsters, in a space between the dumpsters that is accessed by a walk-through used for trash disposal. The dumpster enclosure was behind the Burger King in an area hidden from view from all directions except from the restaurant parking lot. Prolonged exposure to the sun had left him sunburned. He was assumed homeless and taken to a hospital for treatment. Officers who searched the scene found no clothes or wallet to identify the man. According to the manager, there were no weapons found at the scene. Paramedics reported that there were three depressions in his head that may indicate blows by a blunt object. When found, he had no memory of who he was, and did not even recognize his own face. He was legally blind with cataracts, indicating he may have been without medical care for some time before he was assaulted. Initially, he was known as BK because he was discovered on the premises of a Burger King. Since then, he has chosen to live under the name Benjaman Kyle and insists that his real first name is Benjaman."
While reading about Benjaman Kyle, you quickly realize just how incredible his story is. In 10 years, in one of the best-organized countries in the world, Benjaman has yet to find his real identity and his family, despite:
1) An insane amount of tests and verifications:
- Comparative analysis of his fingerprints with FBI records, the NCIC (National Crime Information Center), and military and governmental personnel.
- Research into the Vietnam War records (soldiers sent, disappeared, or exempted).
- DNA analysis done by important research institutes, national and international, public and private.
- Facial recognition tests compared with DMV records.
- Research into births and missing peoples' reports in the main newspapers and associative networks.
- Psychotherapy sessions and hypnosis, etc.
2) Important media coverage:
TV & radio : NBC (2007), CBS (guest on the Dr Phil Show created by Oprah Winfrey and aired on 10/16/ 2008), ABC Denver Channel (2009), Channel 9 NEWS (2009), WSAW TV (2009), BBC World Service (2010), NPR (National Public Radio, 2010), News4Jax Florida (2011), ABC News (2012) etc.
• Press : Augusta Chronicle (2007), Savannah Morning News (2007), WSAV (2008), The Indianapolis Indy Star (2009), Boulder Daily Camera (2009), The Denver Post (2009), The Orange County Register (2009), Savannah Morning News (2009), Idaho Statesman (2010), Oregon Mail Tribune (2010), The Guardian (2010), AOL News (2010) Transylvania County Times (2011), The Examiner (2011), etc.
To this day, I ask myself how it could be possible that after 10 years, with so much coverage, and after such rigorous scientific testing, we still don't know this man's true identity. No one claimed to know him: no relative, no friend, no acquaintance... Whenever I think about it, I can never escape the feeling of shock and bewilderment.
Of course one is able to find many articles online (some of which are more credible than others) on Benjaman Kyle (over 100,000 hits on Google). A lot of this information can be found in forums, blogs, or personal and community websites, like Facebook or Reddit . Amongst this sea of information, the most remarkable work was done by John Wikstrom, a young and talented filmmaker from Florida State University. This eager 21-year-old embarked on this journey with no means, and managed to make a very interesting short film with a double goal: to introduce Benjaman Kyle to the world and to educate the public authorities.
John Wikstrom's short film is clear, articulate, and overall, very well done. Even the trailer is touching. In both videos, the initial hook is quite emotional: "Hello my name is Benjaman Kyle. You don't know who I am, and quite frankly neither do I..." In addition to Wikipedia page, more information is available on Benjaman Kyle on FindingBenjaman.com.
What can we do for Benjaman Kyle today?
As many of these sources will tell you, since his "awakening" in 2004, Benjaman has experienced hard times, left destitute and homeless due to his lack of a social security number. Since then, a restaurant owner who was moved by Benjaman's story, decided to hire him in his restaurant, and someone else offered him a shed where he can sleep under a roof. However, the real issue remains that Benjaman, in addition to having lost his memory, his family, his friends and his real job, still does not have a social security number. Without a social security number, in the United States, you essentially do not exist. You become a kind of wandering entity who cannot get medical treatment, be employed, obtain housing, take a plane, leave the country, etc. The government still does not know who he is and will not recognize him, since all the steps taken in the last 10 years (even with U.S. senators and deputies) have failed.
However, about a year ago, President Barack Obama launched We The People, an interesting online petition system in which the White House can examine certain cases closely, at least responding with a statement, if not a solution. However, in order for the White House to consider a petition, it needs 25,000 signatures within 30 days. To date, our petition has collected nearly 7,500 signatures since November 25 1012. But after a very exciting start (thanks to Reddit), it quickly slowed down, and there are only a few days left to get 17,500 additional electronic signatures! Electronic signing only takes about 15 seconds and it is a real act of human solidarity.
I don't know if Benjaman will ever regain his memory, or if that would be the best thing for him to happen. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that someone, some day, will manage to identify him. Many people and institutions continue work towards that goal with great dedication. As for me, I continue my genealogical research; not only because of the small genetic link that connects us, but mainly because I feel a lot of empathy and sympathy for Benjaman and his story. For two years now, I have gradually made up a huge family tree of more than 4,000 relatives who are part of the American branch of my family, but alas, I still haven't been able to uncover his identity. I'm sure Benjaman, or one of his relatives, is somewhere in my family tree. I do hope that one day, in one way or another, I will find him, or that someone else does, perhaps in an entirely different way. I remain optimistic.
In the meantime, I find it unbelievable that in 10 years, in the twenty-first century, one of the greatest powers of the world cannot solve a simple bug that would allow Benjaman to get a social security number for him to exist, even without memory, or friends or family ... For now, Benjaman is a ghost in the eyes of the U.S. government, almost like a nuisance they would rather sweep under the rug.