Romney helped GOP delegate locate missing niece

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 2:49 PM

Michael Collins

TAMPA, Fla. — Denise Nielsen has been a firm believer in Mitt Romney’s methodical approach to problem solving ever since he played a pivotal role in tracking down her missing niece.

The 14-year-old had run off to a rave party in 1996 in New York City and taken the drug Ecstasy. Romney shut down his offices at Bain Capital in Boston and sent the firm’s 50 employees to New York to help with the search.

The missing teen was found a few days later in the basement of a New Jersey home, shivering and experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Police credited Romney’s actions with helping to locate her.

To Nielsen, Romney’s role in the search speaks not only about the man himself but also about the kind of president he would be.

"He is so committed to doing what is needed to be done, and that is why I’m willing to fight with him to the death," said Nielsen, a California delegate at the Republican National Convention. "He hates problems, and he is totally competent at solving those problems -- and he’s willing to give every last bit of energy he has to do that."

Nielsen, of Santa Rosa Valley, Calif., just north of Los Angeles, knew almost nothing about Romney before he got involved in the search for her niece.

Nielsen’s brother-in-law, who was the missing girl’s father, was an investment banker working for Romney at Bain Capital, the investment firm that Romney founded and led as chief executive officer.

Under Romney’s direction, Bain’s 50 employees went to New York, where they convinced 200 other people to help search for the missing teen for two days. They printed up and passed out fliers and persuaded cashiers at a pharmacy to put the leaflets in the bags of shoppers.

The big break came when a teen-age boy who had partied with the girl saw news coverage of the search and then called authorities and asked if there was a reward. Police traced the call to the New Jersey home where the teen was found.

"She was in really bad shape because she was really heavy in drug withdrawal," Nielsen said. "They said she probably wouldn’t have lasted another day."

Romney’s campaign used the successful search as the basis for a television ad during his first presidential race four years ago. The online fact-check site PolitiFact has looked into Romney’s involvement and concluded that, while other Bain partners helped coordinate the search, Romney clearly had a leading role.

"This guy is not your typical investment banker," said Nielsen, the Romney campaign’s regional chair for California’s Central Coast.

Nielsen has since gotten to know Romney and his wife, Ann, and concluded that Romney got involved in the search for her niece because "that is just the way he is."

"He really hates problems," she said. "He is intent on solving problems."

(Reporter Michael Collins of Scripps Howard News Service can be reached at

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