My niece has been missing for 6 months. Can someone ‘be brave’ and help us find her?

Editor’s Note: This commentary was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on July 1, 2019. On July 10, 2019, police found human remains after a search in rural Garrard County. They later confirmed that the remains were those of missing 23-year-old Savannah Spurlock. David Sparks, 23, has been indicted for murder in the case.

Six months ago my family’s world was blown apart. I received a phone call that our niece, Savannah Spurlock, was missing after a night out at the bar with friends. Initially, we figured she might be sleeping off her night somewhere. But hours turned to days, weeks, and now months. I’ve been immersed into a world I never wished or dreamed to be.

A world full of darkness, desperation, tears, unanswered questions, phone calls with police, daily interactions with the public, and countless nights of nightmares and delusions. But the answers seem to be right there. Three people seen leaving the bar with her. Three people who brought her to a home in Garrard County. Three people who remain unnamed publicly. Three people questioned, re-questioned, released, but never cleared.

And Savannah’s case is not alone in this seemingly obvious answer. Brookelyn Farthing, missing six years, and Crystal Rogers, missing four years, both have seemingly obvious answers. What is preventing justice for these women? Women who are valuable human beings, worthy to be found. Could it be, that a “no-snitch culture” is ruling these rural KY areas? How can we help people living with knowledge, but in fear for their safety if they come forward?

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Admittedly, my perspective is limited. I live in an Ohio suburb far from the ins and outs of the area where Savannah went missing. In my naiveté and exasperation I think, just move away from the area so that you can’t receive backlash for telling police what you know. But it’s not that simple. There are so many layers to a “no-snitch culture.” Self preservation and fear of retaliation seem to be at the core. I’ve been told by locals that people with information won’t talk to police. “Snitches end up in ditches,” a phrase we’ve heard many times before.

But the fear or indifference leading to this culture only perpetuates the cycle of violence and crime. Dangerous and remorseless people are allowed to continue their destruction. This nationwide problem is halting investigations in cities, suburbs, and rural environments. There are currently 16,208 open missing person cases in the US according to namus.gov.

How many of these cases could be solved by someone willing to be brave enough to rise above their surroundings? For six months we have pleaded through tears; we have exhausted the public with our constant efforts. But the exhaustion the public may feel of hearing about Savannah over and over again, is a mere fraction of the daily pain we feel being left in a state of ambiguous grief.

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We cannot properly grieve if she has passed away, because we just don’t know for sure. But there are people out there who do know. Maybe they are family members with someone responsible. Maybe they are someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and heard something. I can’t begin to offer an antidote or simple answer to solve the the prevalent “no-snitch culture.”

What I can do is remind people with answers of the ways for them to be brave in helping end our nightmare. I can remind them that there is a $15,000 reward available for anyone who can lead to Savannah’s return, recovery, or arrest and conviction of those responsible. They can call Richmond police at 859-623-8911 or email detective@richmond.ky.us. They can buy a burner phone and call them anonymously. They can type up the answer, print it out, wear gloves, and place it in one of the 4 metal anonymous tip boxes in Garrard County, free of surveillance cameras. They can go to a public library computer and find our anonymous tipline: http://freesuggestionbox.com/pub/mdeeurl?fbclid=IwAR2QmK0jVIZW7sC2idwC2sL8bzvjZprP_bkdRHePP8QKIXAr35ahowuVj_E . Will you be brave today? While we wait for you, we press forward to be Savannah’s silenced voice. We fight for her and the 261 others missing in KY.

Lisa Thoma is an Aunt of Savannah Spurlock, last seen at a home in Garrard County, Ky, Jan. 4, 2019. She is serving as the Communication Liaison between family and the police, media, and public. She can be reached via message on the family’s missing page for Savannah on Facebook called “Missing Savannah.”