Courtesy of Shelley Fredrickson
American teacher Monty Dickson, a teacher in the small Japanese coastal village of Rikuzentakata, has not been seen since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.
Almost everyone in the town of Rikuzentakata on Japan’s northeast coast knew teacher Montgomery Dickson, or “Monty-san,” as the locals call him.
But the tall American hasn't been heard from since the March 11 quake and tsunami slammed the northeastern coast of the island nation, and any surviving villagers in the town of 23,000 who might have spotted his familiar face apparently have left. An International Medical Corps team that visited Rikuzentakata in the wake of the double disaster found it “was completely destroyed by the tsunami and no persons were present. Showing the depth of the tsunami wave and extent of the destruction, water marks were observed at a height of up to 10 meters (nearly 33 feet) on the sides of hills.”
But Dickson's family and friends are holding out hopes that Dickson, who competed in bike races and joked with his family in Alaska about knowing the area so well that he gave directions to the locals, somehow survived the carnage, said his sister, Shelley Fredrickson, a 44-year-old sales representative in Anchorage.
"We still have hope, we haven’t given up hope by any means of finding him,” she said.
The last one to speak to the 26-year-old Dickson, known as Monty, was his girlfriend, whom he called after his students had evacuated the school where he was teaching. Following evacuation procedure, Dickson -- a teacher with the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) -- then went to the board of education office on the third floor at City Hall as a safe haven.
“When the tsunami hit, all contact with him was gone," Fredrickson said. "We found out that the tsunami was much larger than anybody ever predicted. It went over the third floor of the building where he was. So, that news was very ... damaging to us as a family.”
Overall, some 13,800 people are still listed as missing in the quake and tsunami, in addition to more than 9,200 confirmed deaths, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. So far, Taylor Anderson, a 24-year-old JET teacher from Richmond, Va., is the only American known to have died in the tragedy, according to the U.S. State Department, which said it was looking into several other reports of missing Americans.
Fredrickson said she and her brother have family in England and Hawaii who are helping to post word online about Dickson's disappearance, and they have been in touch with several U.S. agencies and Japanese authorities. She said U.S. consular officials went to the town last week to bring supplies and search -- checking shelters and the morgue –- but found no sign of him.
“You think that if he was walking around helping people -- everybody did know him and he does stand out -- that we would have heard word that somebody would have seen him,” she said. "We all put ourselves on Japanese time so that we can be awake when search crews were there."
His girlfriend also went to Rikuzentakata a few days ago with her brother to search for him. “She couldn’t find anything. She couldn’t find his apartment, she couldn't find his belongings, she couldn't find him,” she said.
One of Dickson's friends, fellow teacher Noriyasu Li, created a profile for him on the Google person finder application.
“Monty's a very outgoing, bright, and hardworking individual,” Li, who met Dickson when they studied together in Alaska before they joined the JET program in Japan in 2009, wrote to msnbc.com. “I believe he worked very hard as a teacher. His advanced Japanese skills must have also paid off, as I heard he was very well spoken in the community of Rikuzentakata ... and connected well with his students. Overall he is a fantastic individual, and I can only hope and pray that he is still somewhere surviving.”
Dickson, whose parents died at different times when he was a child, lived with Fredrickson in his late teens. She said he always worked hard in school to make his mother proud, excelling in academics, and continued to strive for academic achievement after her death -- finishing among the top of his class in high school and at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, where he received a bachelor's degree in language with an emphasis in Japanese.
She said he was a "good kid" with a good sense of humor who had first gotten interested in Japanese culture through video games, and then studied Japanese throughout his education, including spending about two years in the country as a student. He arrived in Japan in August 2009 as a JET teacher, and had planned on teaching there for three years. JET said he is the last of their teachers who is still missing.
Fredrickson said she didn't know if the family would go to Japan to look for him.
"It’s really hard because, we’re going to find him. What capacity, we don’t know," she said.