Ross Perot, Texas billionaire and philanthropist, dies at 89
Mitzi Lockett, a lifetime Fort Worth resident, always felt a connection to Ross Perot. She proudly cast a vote in the 1990s for the two-time independent presidential candidate, and had heard stories of the self-made billionaire using his wealth to help others.
So, weeks after her only son went missing in June 1994 in Hawaii and authorities were ready to give up the search, she called Perot’s office. Lockett, 68, didn’t know what to expect.
Her son, Simon Owen, a 21-year-old student at Texas Wesleyan University, had moved to Honolulu for the summer after his father secured him a server job at a Chili’s restaurant. An avid outdoorsman, Owen went on a hike one day near Manoa Falls, leaving his bicycle at the trailhead. The bike was recovered days later; he never was.
When Lockett called Perot’s office, authorities in Hawaii had said they were close to calling the search off, unable to find any trace of her son in the dense rainforest. They would need more helicopters, which they couldn’t provide.
Lockett, who had moved to Hawaii to join the search, got a return call from Perot at 5 one morning.
“He said, ‘Mitzi, what is the situation and what do you need?’” Lockett recalled over the phone on Friday. “I told him the situation and that I needed some helicopters ... and he said it’ll be taken care of.”
A man from Perot’s office flew to Hawaii and stayed with Lockett, she said. They had contracted two helicopters from a private company, and for weeks a team of volunteers scoured the area from the air.
They never found Simon Owen. Twenty-five years later, no one has ever recovered his body, his backpack or even an article of his clothing.
But after Perot died Tuesday following a months-long battle with leukemia, Lockett began remembering his kindness amid her tragedy. She submitted a letter to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram expressing her gratitude for him.
“I’ve always had him in my prayers every day for 25 years,” she said. “It meant everything, I tell you what. When they were ready to shut things down and stop looking, it gave me the opportunity to keep looking.”
Lockett ultimately lived in Hawaii for one year between 1994 and 1995, searching long after the official searches had ended. Thanks in part to Perot, she said, when she returned home she “was able to know I had done everything I could.”
To this day, though, Lockett holds out hope her son can be found.
She still believes “with all my heart” he could be alive.
“Until somebody can prove to me that he’s gone,” she said, “he’s alive to me.”
‘Simon has disappeared’
In late June 1994, Lockett remembers, something didn’t feel quite right.
She was working at the time at a hospital in Arlington, she said. When she got home, she called the woman who was renting a room to Owen and found out he had been missing since June 29.
“She said, ‘Oh, Mitzi, I’m so glad you called because Simon has disappeared,’” Lockett said. “I talked to the detective on the phone and he told me they were starting to search and asked me a bunch of questions.”
“I got on a plane and went to Hawaii.”
She later found out he hadn’t told anyone he was going for a hike that day. A search began when he didn’t show up to work at Chili’s — uncharacteristic for Owen, Lockett said — and a friend reported him missing.
Authorities only found out where Owen had gone days later when they discovered his bike chained to a tree at the base of the trail, according to a Star-Telegram archive story from 1994. Honolulu police reportedly used helicopters with heat-seeking technology in their four-day search but only found hot spots later identified as dead pigs.
The search was hampered by torrential rains, according to the archives. At least a dozen off-duty Marines were reportedly enlisted to aid in the search, but authorities determined it was too dangerous after several days and called off the search.
In one Star-Telegram article from October 1994, Lockett said she wouldn’t consider the possibility that he wasn’t alive. Authorities and even her husband, however, had conceded that he would have to be dead.
At that time, Lockett reportedly awoke every day around 5:45 a.m. to begin search efforts with about a dozen volunteers.
The article notes that, when the proper crew was available, they had used helicopters paid for by an unnamed Texas donor.
Utilizing the helicopters financed by Perot, Lockett said she had gotten together a search team of private helicopter pilots as well as off-duty police and firefighters. One day, she even went up in a helicopter to look for Owen.
“I have never forgotten Mr. Perot and the things that he did for me,” Lockett said.
‘Heaven has truly gained an angel’
Lockett never got the chance to meet Perot, a pioneer in computer services who founded Electronic Data Systems Corp. and Perot Systems Corp. But, from the times she spoke to him over the phone, she said he was a kind and sweet-talking man.
She sent Perot a letter in 1995 when she arrived back in Fort Worth, signed by her family.
“I will never forget him,” she said. “It gave me peace of mind to know that I had done everything I could possibly do to find him.”
Owen’s disappearance remains a cold case within the Honolulu Police Department, Lockett said. Even 25 years later, she said his memory lives on.
There’s a small scholarship each year presented to an outgoing senior at Fort Worth’s Castleberry High School, Owen’s alma mater, she said. And last week, one of Owen’s childhood friends reached out to Lockett to say he would be coming to town in August for the 25th anniversary of his disappearance.
He has collected funds to put into the scholarship fund, she said.
“Many, many people are still here that love Simon,” Lockett said.
Friends in Hawaii will typically message her each June 29 to say they’re still looking, she said. She heard from a Honolulu detective on that day this year who with his wife placed leis into the ocean to honor Owen.
Hearing the news that Perot had died, Lockett said, was “real crushing to me.”
He was an invaluable part of the search, she said.
“He touched this mother’s heart with his show of kindness,” Lockett wrote in her letter to the Star-Telegram. “Heaven has truly gained an angel with a loving and caring heart.”