Hope WhispersDateline NBC
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- 4 Nov 2020
After a fight with her mother, Angela, Ellie Green stays with her boyfriend’s family until things settle down at home. But when days go by with no word from her mom, Ellie begins to worry. Then she’s given the awful news: her mother is dead. But is that the truth? What really happened to Angela Green? Keith Morrison reports.
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I'm Lester Holt.
Tonight on Dateline, a mother goes missing and her daughter goes investigating. Could she help solve the mystery?
I was just sobbing. Something is wrong. Something is actually wrong here.
It's heartbreaking, isn't it? Yeah. This is a missing persons case. We want to find Angela Green. Her father told different stories. She was first told that her mother was taken away, then that she was dead. Get more and more suspicious as time goes on. I said, I'm going to call the police. They search the house. They searched his property.
That's got to be a very strange thing. Policeman digging in the backyard of my childhood home, his crime scene tape all over. And we're just wanting to know his side of the story. Did you hurt more? No. You lied to me.
I'm not lying to you. I want to know where mom is. We're not going to stay quiet.
There is an answer out there somewhere. Here's Keith Morrison with whispers.
Ellie Green was almost there adopting the last stage of growing up can be difficult for anyone but for Ellie Green, try horrifying, confusing, grotesque, just trying to live my life and be happy.
And it just happened to me. So I wonder what happened after you left that day.
Yeah, I wonder to her, one shining future now a cloud of grief and suspicion and lies. And the one person left, the one she counted on, really couldn't be in a situation like this.
They look at the closest person as the primary suspect, either because this person is the primary suspect, a suspect of what for a long time, Ellie had so many questions and then she demanded answers. The dutiful daughter's journey to mother's champion. But to begin at the beginning, one year ago, when life was still fresh and all things seemed possible, especially for someone as gifted as Ellie, how many languages do you speak of?
About four. How did you do in high school? Valedictorian graduate with an international baccalaureate form, a 4.0 GPA? I don't think I could have gone much better.
Yeah, apparently, yeah.
Credits that to her upbringing in Prairie Village just outside Kansas City and of course, to her parents, Jeff and Angela Green.
She is from China and came here in her 20s. She fought her whole life into me.
What was it you called her? Tiger mom?
Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. She's having a Mandarin and established a strong work ethic in me.
But then Angela Green had always been a towering figure and not just to L.A. I remember she just looked so tall and she was wearing this long black dress.
Angela's niece Michelle was just six years old when her and arrived here from China where she'd done some modeling.
It looked like she was walking towards us like she was like floating towards us. And I just remember thinking, like, wow, you were in thrall.
Yes, definitely. On that day more than 20 years ago, Angela turned the arrivals hall of the airport into a catwalk. She was here to marry Jeff Greene. The two met when he was in China business. Was she in love with Jeff?
My mother says that she remembers them being, like, very flirty and she liked that. She was very tall.
Jeff found work in I.T. Angela ran the house, tended her beloved garden.
Neighbors said she was a fixture there.
Every season, the shrubbery out front was always well trimmed and groomed. She would be out there on the dead of winter when I was growing, doing all the shoveling. She really took care of the house a lot.
And then there was Ellie, their only child, the glue to everything.
My mom wasn't fluent in English and my dad didn't really speak any Mandarin, so sometimes I would have to translate.
That is got to be almost unique to grow up with the mother and father who are never fully able to communicate with each other. Yeah, yeah.
Still, I thought they made a happy threesome when it was time for college. She stayed close to home with the University of Kansas.
Only that wasn't close enough for Angela. She seemed to fade without Ellie under her roof.
She lost weight and I know she had a hard time sleeping, so she told me so.
Imagine Angela's dismay when after that freshman year early summer schedule filled up with a job, a trip to Italy and a new boyfriend, Zach Kraus.
Sometimes when a person goes away, you could kind of know you really wanted to come back, right?
Yeah, like that. Definitely funny.
I mean, he didn't notice her mother quietly seething until one day Angela Green let it be known a moment in time. It can't be retracted now.
It was the 20th of June.
Why Mom and I got into a little bit of an argument, I don't know, ramped up about something. I think she was ramped up about what had been going on in the last year and how much she didn't really see me.
It ended badly. Her mom in a fury, Eli, forced to leave. She called Zach. How was she?
She was crying. I mean, that's hard. Oh, God.
Being kicked out, kicked out early state of Zach's parents hoping her mom would calm down. Instead, days later, there was a message from her dad. It was bizarre.
I got a text from my dad saying that my mom had been taken to a mental institution in a grocery parking lot.
Forcefully, Angela, some sort of breakdown, grabbed in broad daylight by medical assistance and whisked away.
My immediate thought was, how do I get her the clothes? She needs her things? Is she being taken care of yet? When Ellie asked her dad where he wouldn't say, did you think that made any sense that you wouldn't be able to go see her?
He said it was for my own personal good and safety. So Ellie did, as she was told and waited at Zach's. Then a few weeks later, middle of July, her dad. At News, L.A. wondered, was it bad news about her mom, had something happened? Yes, in fact, something that Angela was gone.
You are shock because the world just kind of came crashing down. It would take a while for that shock to subside what had happened to Angela Green. Maybe it was up to Ellie to find out. Ellie Green haunted by questions when we come back, we just cried and hugged to try to make some sense of it just had to be there for her.
A devastated Ellie gets a curious request from her dad.
He told me not to tell mom's family.
What could his reason for that be? It was a perfect July evening, Ellie Green was watching her boyfriend Zack play Frisbee, and she got a text from her dad. There was news he wanted to deliver it in person.
We pulled up to Zach's house and said that Angela died of a stroke.
I'm sorry. He used Angela and the mom. Yeah.
Yeah. Ellie crumpled to the ground, Zach went running for his parents, Sarah is Zach's mom.
He burst into our room and said Ellie's mom just died. And we sat straight up in complete shock and we just embraced her and cried and hugged and sat on the couch to try to make some sense of it.
Where was her father? He drove away. Left? Yeah.
Zach's mom invited him to come to lunch the next day over tomato soup. He shared what details he said he could.
He'd been at work when someone from the hospital called to say Angela was dead from a stroke.
All he knew was the staff checked on her in the evening and she was fine and by the morning unresponsive.
It just seemed so sudden, so unlikely. Thanks, Mom. Wondered if there was more to the story, something Jeff wasn't telling Ellie.
We did wonder if suicide was involved, if she had some mental issues going on. We just wondered could that come into play?
Maybe Ellie's dad was protecting her somehow. We saw them in the same room together, having lunch.
Did you see closeness? Did you see like a typical father daughter relationship? Yes.
You could tell he really loves her and you could tell that he. I was worried about her, Ellie was in shock. I walked around and I had my feet on the ground, I would touch things, but it just didn't feel like they were really there.
She couldn't stop thinking about her mom, how selfless and committed she'd always been. Demanding, yes, but also loving sewing costumes for her school plays notes in her lunchbox. Ellie wished she'd had a chance to say goodbye. It was rough.
The hardest part for me was being unable to do anything. I just had to be there for her, especially because Ellie felt like she was grieving alone.
She had so many questions for her dad, but he didn't want to talk about things. He had always been the quiet parent quick with a hug and a calm word who loved spending time tinkering with his vintage cars. Angela was more focused on home, where she was definitely the one in charge when she was the boss of the household, as you say.
How did he react to that? Just went along with it.
That sounds a little passive. Mm hmm. Well, sometimes if you have one parent who's particularly strong, it can help to have another parent who you can go to and say, yeah, I did that, I did that.
And he was there as a sort of released for you. Yeah.
So when Jeff told his daughter he needed space and quiet to grieve, Ellie gave him both had already lost one bear.
I didn't want to lose another. I totally understand. Yeah. That Jeff didn't even seem to want a funeral.
That always struck me as strange as well as other people.
Ellie's boss asked me where she could send flowers to the memorial, and I said there's not a memorial. And she said, oh, OK. She seemed confused by it, too. Still wasn't her place to say, and time moved on. Ellie went back to college just like her mother would have wanted her to. But as the shock faded and the grief became an ache, she was ever more troubled by another request her dad had made of her.
Told me not to tell Mom's family.
Jeff had asked Ellie not to contact her mom's sister and niece, Michelle, to tell them Angela was dead.
But of course, you tell a family that they do A.S.A.P.. Yeah, you should.
So what was his explanation for not wanting to tell people he wasn't ready yet, but Ellie was because something was changing in her. She picked up the phone and called her mom's relatives. But, you know, the domino theory knocked down just one of them. And look out on that. A life can turn. Coming up, you can't just snatch someone off the street. A story that just didn't seem to add up. I said, well, which hospital was she at?
Do you have a death certificate at this point? I said, I'm going to call the police when Dateline continues.
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That's zip recruiter dotcom slash NBC. All you need is Wi-Fi to try it for free. Just go to zip recruiter dotcom slash NBC zip recruiter. The smartest way to hire. It had been a long time since Angela, sister and niece Michelle had heard from her. No phone call, no word at all strange.
And my mom tried to call her and then she didn't pick up and she thought, OK, maybe Angie's just busy, or maybe she's just being stubborn.
They knew Angela could be that way, sometimes a little distant. But there was a family wedding planned in Virginia. It was Angela coming.
Then she tried to call again to ask if she received a wedding invitation and still no answer. That's getting downright rude at that point. Exactly. That's exactly what she told me. She said, I think that she's being a little rude now.
They had no idea what had been going on all that time back in Kansas. Not a clue that during that long silence, Ellie had been mourning Angela's death. Didn't know because nobody told them.
It wasn't my place to tell. I didn't want to tell. I knew it was supposed to be my dad who did.
But when months went by, that confusion and guilt worked out her. Something finally broke. She picked up the phone and called her mom's family.
It was a horrible phone call, the worst one I've ever given in my life.
When Ellie called her, she was just crying for the first minute.
Michelle happened to call her mom in the middle of that conversation about Angela.
And my mom knew that something was wrong but couldn't figure out what she was saying. She said, hold on. Ellie's on the other line.
She just told me that your aunt died, Angela dead at 51 years of age.
Michelle was stunned, even more so when she and her mom figured out that Ellie's dad had kept the news from them for seven months.
And my mom, she was just like, why hasn't anyone told us? Why hasn't Jeff reached out? And she said, My dad told me that I wasn't allowed to tell you.
I wasn't allowed to tell you.
Yes, he didn't give her a reason. But she said I thought that he was just grieving and like a strange way and I didn't want to overstep my boundaries.
But Michelle, seven years older than Ellie and a lawyer, had no such misgivings. She wanted facts. So she called Ellie a cousin she barely knew and pressed her for details.
Ellie recounted what she'd been told that Angie had been ambushed in a grocery store parking lot and forcibly admitted to a mental institution against her will as a lawyer. This raised so many red flags to me and I was just like, they would need some sort of court order, a judge approval to be able to do this. You can't just snatch someone off the street.
Then the story about Angela dying of a stroke.
We don't have a history of strokes in our family. So I told Ellie this and I said, well, which hospital was she at? And she said, I don't know. My dad won't tell me. I asked her, was there a funeral or memorial? And Ellie said, no, my dad didn't want to have one. And so then I asked, do you have a death certificate? And then Ellie said, what's a death certificate?
Your cousin explained there had to be a record of her mom's death in the state capital, Topeka.
So, well, we went the next day. She was the feet on the ground. Michelle was on the phone back in New York, two cousins forging an unexpected bond. Under the strangest of circumstances.
Ellie found her way to the right building to see the right person who could produce Angela's death certificate.
They spent a really long time trying to look for it, and they ended up being able to find her marriage certificate to draft. But they said that there was absolutely no record of her death in Kansas. My mind was spinning and a whole bunch of directions, but I just knew it wasn't good, not good at all.
She needed an explanation from the only person who could give it her dad.
I asked, where did mom die? What state? And he said, Kansas. I said, no, it was it. And he kind of turned on me and he said, How do you know? And I said, because I went to Topeka and looked it up and there wasn't anything. And he said, well, maybe it was Missouri or some other state I don't remember off to go home and look at it.
Michelle wasn't counting on her Uncle Jeff, not when it came to the truth about her.
And we found out that she died allegedly seven months ago. We found out that she had been taken to a mental institution. We didn't know where she had died. We knew that there was no death certificate for her. So then at this point, I said I. I'm going to call the police. Coming up, a phone call at the police station, he happened to call L.A. while we were there, and so she put it on speakerphone and a brand new story like, oh, my gosh.
Well, next year. The police in Prairie Village, Kansas, had no idea who Angela Green was.
She was just not the sort of person would be known to police, as they say, that is, until a phone call from her niece miles and miles away in New York, a family member called and wanted Mrs. Green's welfare check because they had not had contact with her.
Sergeant Adam Taylor is part of the investigations division of the Prairie Village Police Department.
When that call came in, could you go check on Angela Green? What did you do?
Yeah, the patrol officers responded when they got to the residence.
They did not have contact with Mrs. Green, but the officers asked around, canvass the neighbors. The response was nobody had seen her for quite some time, quite some time. Like this wasn't just a day or two, you know, odd, they said, because she was always in her garden.
The neighbor said it looked like it hadn't been touched in a while.
The sidewalk in front of her house was covered with branches and that would never have happened if she had been around. That was sort of my first inkling that she wasn't around.
Of course, the officers talked to Ali's dad and here's what he told them.
Angela was away for the weekend. What did you think when you heard that?
I was in disbelief. I was like, you do know that he told us that she was dead, right.
Ellie was also in disbelief. She was angry and knew exactly what she had to do. Zack's family was there to help Ellie.
And my mom and I went to the police and filed a missing persons report for Angela.
And right in the middle of that, right there in the police station, Ellie's phone rang.
It was her dad.
He happened to call Ellie while you were in the police station while we were there.
And so she put it on speakerphone and he wasn't aware that they were listening and he wasn't aware that we were there.
And at some point the call was recorded. This is the voice of Jeff Green.
At the moment, I have no idea which way to go or what the truth is going on.
Jeff was telling Ellie that her recent trip to Deepika had shaken him. He thought her mother was dead.
But now, I didn't think anything until you told me that that's true because it's like, oh, my gosh. Well, maybe she's alive.
Really. Ellie was exasperated. She wanted her dad to start at the beginning with that tale about some psychiatric facility making off with her mother.
What about the story you told me about taking her from a parking lot and. Well, I was right. I mean, I didn't want you to think that she had run off with some stranger to do something. And I thought it would be so bad. You know, I want the truth. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And the truth is that she kind of disappeared out of her own free will.
Ellie's dad was saying now that he made up the story about her mom being grabbed off the street and taken to a hospital when actually he said back then he had no idea if Angela had run away or checked herself in for treatment or what this part was true. He said someone later called to tell him Angela was dead and he just chose to have her cremated.
I've got an urn and they dropped her in back by and mean it was all done by phone. And and now that I think about it, it was like, when was God? That was back in July.
That was the first time he told me he had her ashes delivered in an urn.
It had all been such a blur, said Jeff, who called him to tell him Angela had died.
He didn't say he couldn't even tell Ellie exactly who dropped off the urn at the house.
I didn't check it until just this past weekend, and I had heard, you know, so I finally did open it up and it's empty. So there were no ashes.
And it Angela's ashes were not there. What was going on? It's like, oh, my God, she's alive. So what was true?
What wasn't? They demanded to know. I just wanna know the truth. Like it is like it's very, very else. So just tell me as soon as possible, like, seriously. It's so not fair. So I don't want any fabricated stories anymore. Do you understand? Yes, I understand. Even if you're trying to protect me, just tell me the truth. Yes, I will. I love you, Dad. I love you, too.
I love you. How did you feel when you left the police station that day?
Like a heavy heart for Ellie. So much frustration and confusion about what was happening.
Now, though, this much was clear to Ellie. She was no longer alone in her confusion. The circle of people who heard Jeff Greene explain his wife's disappearance and came away bewildered was widening. And now the police have more questions of their own to put directly to Mr. Green and right away. Coming up, my childhood home as crime scene tape all over. The investigation heats up and L.A. prepares for confrontation.
We would make flowcharts like write down a question and then say, if he says this, then you say this. She had a whole script to go on when she talked to him. Yes.
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Sometimes when you turn a corner, there's just no turning back Alley Green had talked to the police about her missing mother.
She let them listen in on the phone call with her dad as he admitted he changed his stories from saying Angela was dead to saying she had disappeared to saying she might even be alive. Kind of make you think you want to talk to Jeffrey Green, right? That would be that would be a very important part of it.
So did you. We tried. What happened? He he did not want to talk to us.
I heard that when you arrived, he had a calling card of his attorney. Is that correct?
He did. What does that say to you? To us, it's a choice that he made at the time. We're just wanting to know his side of the story.
But if Jeff wasn't ready to talk, investigators had other leads to pursue, like Angela's death certificate, which they did.
But the police said that there is no record of her death in the entire country. They did a search in every single state and there's no record of her death.
Which meant what? That she was still alive. Sergeant Taylor went looking for any trace of where she might have gone.
We have to figure out what what's factual, what's real.
Investigators checked local hospitals to see if Angela had admitted herself and checked travel records to to see if she'd left the United States. They even tried to pull traffic camera video. It was a massive operation, but time wasn't on their side.
I think it's so tough because from the time of her disappearance, until the investigation was started, that there was eight months of time. So that's eight months of evidence being gone.
Still, there was something investigators could do, and it came as a total surprise to L.A. and her dad just before dawn on the cold March morning to forensic teams, descended on the storage facility where Jeff kept his vintage cars and on the family home.
They took her dad away that morning to the police station so he wasn't there.
They roped off the house and they had like that's got to be a very strange thing to stand there and watch as policemen. Yeah. Going through your house. Digging in the backyard.
Yeah, my childhood home. There's crime scene tape all over it.
They brought cadaver dogs to. Why would you take cadaver dogs on a search?
Why would you do that?
You would want to use any and all resources available to you for any investigation related to a missing person to help gather evidence.
But there was one source of information that remained untapped. Ellie's dad. He still wasn't talking to investigators. Ellie and Michelle were frustrated, just story about Angela being away for the weekend seemed obviously false to them.
The extent of her social interaction was just small talk with neighbors like she would never go anywhere alone.
As for her dad, Ellie just didn't believe he would have accepted her mother's death without asking more questions, let alone cremate her and buy an urn sight unseen.
He told her it cost him 1500 dollars.
He's protective of his money here and just give that amount of money to somebody he didn't know.
But that Ellie had always known was far too skeptical to do something like that. Well, Ellie was skeptical, too, and she didn't believe anything her dad had told her. And so Ellie knew she had to make a choice, a very difficult one.
I could have just kept going with my life and not asking more questions and I it and moved on. But that's not the person I am.
No, and so she decided she was going to start her own investigation of her own father if he wouldn't talk to police, maybe he talked to her and she wanted to be ready. She and Michelle spent hours preparing questions.
We would make flowcharts like write down a question and then say, if he says this, then you say this.
She had a whole script to go to go on when she talked to him. Yes.
The day after her visit to the police station, Ellie made the first of several phone calls to her dad and she did more than talk with her dad. She recorded every word. I can follow your story like there's parts missing.
Coming up, you're like the death certificate is our home. The Ashes are at home, none of it's own, you know that. But you lied to me.
I'm not lying to you. What? Ali finally learned the truth.
Did you hurt my girl? Growing up, Ali barely knew her older cousin, Michelle. Then came her mother's disappearance, and overnight, Michelle became Eliz ally, someone as determined as she was to find Angela Green.
Every night when I lay down, it's all I can think about is just trying to figure out what we still can do.
Eight months after Angela's disappearance, the cousins had a plan they were going to cross-examine Natalee's dad in a series of phone calls. I didn't want him to get anything by me anymore.
She was at Zach's house when she made the first call. As she began, she was polite but pointed. When exactly did her mom disappear? Their fight was on June 20th.
So did she run away that night or did she run away like the next day? It was later.
It was later than that because, you know, had she taken anything with her, you know, her purse, the black wallet she has.
And I can't help it. In fact, Jeff didn't seem to know much.
So somebody called you and said that she had died and you don't know who that was? No, it was quite a shock.
Michelle pored over the transcript of the call and helped Ellie strategize new questions. What was all of this like, this process? It was so stressful.
A few days later, Ellie called her dad back.
If she's alive, how do you think she's affording to live?
Well, the only way I can think of the good is that she my first thought is she has a friend so that I wouldn't think it. Work out, but I don't think this is the first time that has happened to her. So that was news to Ellie, when was the first time?
But that's a story for discussion to have sometime in the future. Michelle didn't buy it for a second.
If you're maintaining that your wife is alive and had run away with a friend, tell us which friend. Tell us why she ran away.
But what could possibly explain the empty urn, the mysterious phone call saying she was dead.
As they talked, Ellie wondered if her dad thought that Angela might have faked your own death. I think not so much the sacred earth as notions and. Told. Scam on me to to make me feel bad, cut back on me, whatever, why she isn't happy with me. That's why. He wasn't the only one with questions, her dad at one, two, and it was also pointed.
So have you been talking to police a lot?
No, I know they've only questioned me a few times, you know, and they. In a situation like this, they look at the closest person as primary suspect.
So I don't know the closest person to the primary suspect, primary suspect that caught his attention anyway, after several phone calls with her dad, listening to what sounded to her like him, dodging and deflecting, Ellie's patience ran out.
He went from saying she's alive to she's dead. She's alive to die.
Like, I can't even come up with a flowchart to make it all work.
So Eliz questioning was about to get tougher. She zeroed in on that phone call. Jeff said he got at work telling him his wife, her mother was dead.
You can't tell me anything about that caller who called you because I was very busy at that particular point in time. So I didn't worry about it because I knew that information would come in different ways. But you excuse yourself from work.
Like whenever I call you, you excuse yourself from work.
Well, it depends on what's going on. Most of the time there's not a but it's like Mom's dead.
Why would you not excuse yourself from work early?
Didn't even let her dad answer your like. The death certificate is our home. The ashes are at home. None of it's own. You know that. But you lied to me.
I'm not lying to you. I don't have a story that's straight.
You don't have a story that's strange. It's only because there's a precise line that you want. And I can't give you a precise line because I don't know what that is yet.
If logic wasn't going to get through to her, dad decided to try a new tactic, she begged.
I'm telling you that I need your help emotionally and also to find her. If you won't talk to me, then go and talk to the police or hire P.I. instead. You've hired a criminal defense lawyer to save your ass change last she last.
So I don't feel that I'm a good chaser.
I respect respected a liar.
Again, I'm not lying.
Well, you're going to the police station tomorrow with me now with your attorney.
No, no, I'm not going to get into you know, I'm going to get into a fight.
You're doing cross-examination like you have been on just about every phone call taking things and turn them around. And I don't turn anything around because you I don't like that.
We repeatedly asked Jeff Green and his lawyer to comment and they declined to do so. But since that first recorded phone call with Ellie in the police station, Jeff Green has insisted he does not know where Angela is and had nothing to do with her disappearance and did not harm her.
Did you hurt my go?
Two members of Jeff's family told us they've never seen him commit a violent act.
And after chasing down hundreds of leads, the police still can't say whether a crime has been committed or not.
We can't jump to conclusions. We have to see what the facts are in front of us.
And yet this July, the year after Angela vanished, it sounded like investigators had run out of facts to consider.
They told me the case was cold. They had exhausted all their leads and they would go back and revisit the case every month. What was it like to hear that frustrating?
Ellie was just as frustrated with her dad. They barely talked anymore. Right now, there's there's no chance of a relationship between us.
So Ellie felt like she had nothing to lose. She decided to do something bold. She went public. Instagram interviews like this one, public appeals for leads. Michelle right there with her.
We're not going to stay quiet. We're not going to keep this a secret. We are going to make sure that as many people know about it as possible.
So you become pretty close. You do?
Yeah. Ellie and I talk every single day. We're just we're super, super close.
Now, Ellie may not have a mom or a dad, but she's built a new kind of family, Michelle, who is like a sister to her and Zach's parents.
We've told her she's she's part of our family forever. She knows that in whatever capacity suits her, we're there for her always.
But perhaps the biggest change is something about her, her whole life, she'd been a creature of her mother, bookish, dutiful, obedient.
She's not that person anymore.
She has her own voice now when the trees tremble and the wind roars across the valley. Look around.
She's started writing poetry for an audience here.
Indeed, there is one sound hope whispers louder than the wind.
Hope is hard, but she will not let it go.
There's a part of me that she's out there somewhere. Do you really think that's possible?
I think that's just a slim possibility. But you want to hang on to something? I would do.
Yeah, I do. That's all for this edition of Dateline. We'll see you Thursday at nine eight Central. And of course, I'll see you each weeknight for NBC Nightly News. I'm Lester Holt. For all of us at NBC News, good night.