“Goodbye, Mama. I love you. I’m sorry I can never come home again.” Her daughter’s words echoed in the mind of Sondra Owens as she played the voice mail message over and over again.
‘What could make Cynthia think she couldn’t return home?’ Sondra wrung her hands. ‘Why wasn’t I here to get the message first hand? Why did I take that weekend trip? I’ve let my daughter down.’
Sondra needed to clear her mind but she had too many questions and not enough answers. Picking up the phone she called Cynthia’s college roommate. Leslie answered on the second ring.
“Hi, Mrs. Owens,” she said brightly after Sondra identified herself.
“Do you know where Cynthia is? I need to talk to her,” Sondra blurted out, ignoring common niceties.
“No, I don’t, Mrs. Owens. I haven’t seen her since Friday. I assumed she went home to visit you.”
“She’s not here,” Sondra moaned. “Can you check around campus and see if anyone has seen her? I wouldn’t ask but it is important.”
“Sure, Mrs. Owens. Is something wrong?” Leslie was beginning to get alarmed.
“I’m not sure,” Sondra admitted. “Just let me know what you find out.”
“Sure thing, Mrs. Owens,” Leslie said as she hung up.
While waiting for Leslie’s return call, Sondra phoned everyone she could think of that might know where her daughter could be. She even called the boy Cynthia had recently dumped on the off chance there’d been an unknown reconciliation.
All of her leads proved ineffective. No one had seen or heard from Cynthia in three days. Leslie echoed the same when she called back.
“No one has seen her, Mrs. Owens. Now I’m beginning to get worried.”
“Don’t be,” Sondra cooed in an effort to soothe the girl’s frayed nerves. “She probably told me she was going somewhere and I just forgot or something.”
“Right,” Leslie said, not believing a word of it.
After hanging up, Sondra grabbed her keys and headed out the front door. She jumped into her car and started driving. Within five minutes she was parked in front of the town’s local police station.
Rushing inside, Sondra eyed the desk sergeant. He was old enough to have children of his own. She hoped that might motivate him to help her.
“I need to report a possible missing person,” she stammered.
The sergeant looked up and immediately recognized the panic in Sondra’s eyes. “How long has the person been missing?”
“Three days as far as I can tell,” Sondra muttered.
“You don’t know how long the person has been missing?” The sergeant looked confused.
“My daughter is in college in Richmond. No one has seen her in three days and she left me a message exactly three days ago. Yes, I’m sure three days is accurate.”
“But you aren’t really certain that she is missing? Could she have run away?”
“No! You don’t know my daughter, sir. We are very close. Something is wrong. I know it. Please help me,” she begged.
Picking up the desk phone, the officer punched a button. When someone answered on the other end, he spoke. “Dan, I have a missing person case for you. Could you come out and interview the mother?” The sergeant nodded.
“He’s coming right out. If your daughter is really missing, Dan Turner is the man who can find her. He’s the best we’ve got.”
“Thank you!” Sondra responded, tears threatening to break from her eyes yet again.
“Mam, can I help you?” The voice came from Sondra’s left side.
Sondra turned to eye a blonde man about 40 years of age. “Yes, Detective Turner. My daughter is missing.” Sondra felt her knees beginning to buckle underneath her but Dan reached out to steady her with his muscular arms. He offered one of them to her as they made their way to his office.
After they were both seated, the detective pulled out a form and began asking the standard questions: height, weight, hair, eye color, etc. Then finally he looked at Sondra and asked the inevitable question.
“What makes you think your daughter is missing, Sondra?”
“This message,” Sondra replied as she pulled a tape recorder and played her daughter’s words.
“Why would your daughter think she couldn’t return home?”
“There’s only one reason but it doesn’t make sense now.” Sondra wiped more tears from her face.
“My husband was raised a strict Catholic. He always warned Sondra that if she got pregnant out of marriage, she’d better disappear. She wouldn’t be welcome in our home again,” Sondra whined. “But he’s dead. He died last year from a heart attack. I’m certain Sondra knows that wouldn’t apply with me.” Looking down, she finished her statement. “At least I hope she does.”
“So you called the college and spoke to all her friends here in Roanoke. Is there anyone else she might contact if she was in trouble?” Dan was beginning to feel a bit uneasy.
“No one. There’s just me. I swear it.”
“Do you have a picture of your daughter with you?”
Sondra reached in her person and withdrew a picture of herself and Sondra taken the previous month.
“She’s beautiful,” Dan sighed.
“Yes, inside and out,” the mother muttered before beginning to sob openly.
“Mrs. Owens – Sondra – I need you to leave this to me now. Can you do that?”
Sondra nodded as she attempted to quiet her sobs. “Will you call me when you know anything? Please!”
“You have my word,” Dan promised as he helped the woman from her chair and out to her car.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like someone to drive you home? Your car would be safe here.”
“No, I’m fine. I’ll take it slow,” Sondra said flatly. Then she pulled away.
Dan Turner didn’t return to his office. Instead he got into his car and headed for Richmond, Virginia. He knew where to begin his search. He just hoped he was wrong.
After checking the first two hospitals, Dan pulled into a third hoping to find the same thing. So far no girl fitting Cynthia’s description had been admitted.
Hurrying to the ER, Dan waited for the doctor on duty the night of Cynthia’s disappearance to meet him. When he did, the detective explained the situation and showed the doctor the girl’s picture.
“Yes, she was brought here. She was the victim of a hit and run accident. She didn’t have any identification on her. We were forced to label her a Jane Doe.”
“What room is she in?” Dan looked into the doctor’s eyes. The look he found chilled him to the bone.
“I’m afraid she didn’t make it,” the doctor said soberly. “She’s in the morgue if you want to see her.”
Dan nodded. He knew his way there. He’d been there too many times during his career. This time, however, he was dreading it more than usual. If what he thought he find was true, he was going to break a mother’s heart.
After checking for himself, Dan Turner got a copy of the death certificate and the morgue photo. Then he drove back to Roanoke. His heart was heavy as he pulled into the Owen driveway.
Sondra answered his knock right away. One look at his face told her everything she needed to know.
“How?” The word sounded hollow.
“Hit and run driver,” Dan mumbled in return. “Sondra, I’m so sorry. I’d give anything if it had turned out differently.”
Sondra nodded. Then she asked an unexpected question. “What time did she die?”
Dan looked at the report. “It said death was pronounced at 5:51 p.m. on Friday.”
Sondra nodded. “I knew it. I knew she’d get a message to me.”
Looking confused, Dan Turner responded, “I don’t understand.”
“The message I played for you. It came in exactly at midnight.”
“That’s impossible. Your daughter had been dead . . . ,”
“For more than six hours,” Sondra finished. “I know. We had this pact though. We always promised that whichever one of us passed first, we’d get a message to the other one to let them know we were safe on the other side. My baby did that for me. Now I know she is truly at peace.”