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Dawn Drexel starts foundation to teach child safety, empower families

Dawn Drexel, Brittanee's mother, has started a foundation to honor her daughter and try to spare other families from experiencing her pain. (WHAM photo)

Pittsford, N.Y. (WHAM) - This Thanksgiving will be the seventh that the family of Brittanee Drexel will gather without her.

Despite all she has lost, Dawn Drexel - Brittanee's mother - is now focused on giving back. She has started a foundation to honor her daughter and try to spare other families from experiencing her pain.

When Brittanee walked out of the Myrtle Beach hotel and disappeared back in 2009, the Drexel family went down its own difficult and strange path.

"Your child is the victim, but you're also the victim," Dawn said in an interview with 13WHAM News Tuesday.

The Drexel family endured many difficult things during their daughter's disappearance and subsequent search for her.

Among them were people who preyed on their vulnerability, including a bounty hunter.

"He told us he'd help us find her and he talked to people about information," Dawn said. "It never led to anything and he kept asking for money and asking for money. And he ended up scamming us for $15,000."

Another person wrote a letter to the Drexel family, claiming he had killed Brittanee.

Both of these experiences added to their already excruciating pain.

Details of the brutal crime against Brittanee and the Drexels finally surfaced in August. The FBI called Dawn and Brittanee's father to South Carolina.

"It was very hard for me to hear," Dawn said. "I was just in tears. I couldn't talk (Bob had to talk for me) because I broke down. I didn't want to hear, I couldn't handle it."

But Dawn did handle it. Not only that, she has now formed a foundation to help other families. Brittanee's Little Angels will help teach safety, and if a child does disappear, help empower families.

It is a resource Dawn said she wishes now she had.

"No one does anything like this for families," Dawn said. "If I can give people information, their child watches their surroundings to keep them from going missing, then I've done my job."

Seven years of searching for Brittanee has taught Dawn a lot. At this point, she could walk away from it all.

But she won't. She can't.

"I don't ever want a family to go through what I've gone through," Dawn said.

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