A search for a missing relative

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Bob Gildersleeve, an Ecolab executive, is listed among the missing of the Amtrak derailment in Pennsylvania.

THE BOY HELD the flier in front of him and spoke.

"My name is Marc Gildersleeve," he said. "Please help me find my dad, and if you know any information, please call."

He was poised. He was steady. And he broke our hearts.

Just a day earlier, the 13-year-old's father, Bob Gildersleeve Jr., dropped him off at lacrosse practice and boarded Amtrak Train 188 from Baltimore to New York for a business trip.

Usually his father, a vice president of sales for Ecolab, a food-safety-hygiene company, traveled by plane. But this time, his son said, he decided the train would be more convenient.

No one has heard from him since.

The 45-year-old father of two from suburban Baltimore had boarded a train carrying more than 200 passengers and five crew members from Washington, D.C., to New York City. It derailed in Frankford on Tuesday night, killing seven passengers and injuring hundreds. The catastrophic crash was the worst accident on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor since 1987.

The Gildersleeve family rushed to Philadelphia to check area hospitals, but when the search led nowhere, they went to the Marriott at 12th and Market streets in Center City, where the families of the missing gathered.

Outside, Gildersleeve's friends and family handed out hastily made fliers with a photograph of a smiling Gildersleeve and a handwritten description of his height, weight, what he was wearing and numbers to call with any information.

"Bobby is 6-foot-4, he's got blond hair, beautiful blue eyes," said the missing man's father, Bob Gildersleeve Sr., his voice cracking.

Gildersleeve Sr., 71, had flown up from Palm Beach, Fla., yesterday morning to be with other family members as they waited for information. But as of late yesterday, there was none.

"His brother and sisters are here, his in-laws are here, everybody is here," Gildersleeve Sr. said. "The frustrating thing about that, as much as everyone claims to help . . . "

He trailed off a little, and then asked reporters to help. "Call up the Amtrak number that they posted and get some information from there and then please relay it to us because we can't get that information. It's very frustrating. Not that they're not trying, but trying and coming up short."

His frustration only grew as the night wore on, and more than 24 hours after the horrific crash, the family still had no information.

"I need someone to come up to me and say, 'Mr. Gildersleeve, we found your son,' " he told a Daily News reporter. " 'He's playing pool in some bar down on Market Street' or 'We found your son, I'm sorry to inform you that he's passed, OK?'

"You just want to sit down and cry."

But tears, like answers, were escaping the grieving father. "I don't think that I could cry another tear. I may never cry another tear. This is heartbreaking."

A father's heartbreak turned into collective anger when it was confirmed that the accident may have been avoidable: According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the train was barreling into a sharp curve at 106 mph, more than twice the speed limit for that stretch, when the engineer slammed on the emergency breaks. A system that enforces train speed that is installed around most of the Northeast Corridor, but not in this area, could have prevented the crash.

Yesterday, the city was comparing patient lists at area hospitals with Amtrak records in hopes of confirming the status of all the passengers.

Two people who had been among the missing were confirmed dead, including Wells Fargo senior vice president Abid Gilani, 55, and Rachel Jacobs, 39, a CEO at the Philadelphia-based company ApprenNet, who was on her way home to New York.

Of the seven people confirmed dead, two others were also identified yesterday: Naval Academy midshipman Jason Zemser, 20, and Associated Press video-software architect Jim Gaines, 48.

But more than 24 hours after the crash, Bob Gildersleeve Jr. was still unaccounted for, even though authorities had found his cellphone.

"It's very scary," Marc Gildersleeve said. "We have no idea where he is and what hospital he is at, if he is at a hospital."

Before he walked back into the hotel to be with his mother and his 16-year-old sister, Ryan, the boy spoke one last time as he clutched his father's picture.

"Just please, help me find my dad."



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