Woman Says She May Be Girl Missing Since 1986

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The parents of a 6-year-old girl who vanished in 1986 while playing hide-and-seek are hoping DNA (search) tests confirm a woman's belief that she may be their daughter, now an adult.

Police in Virginia said Tuesday they are helping Indiana authorities investigate the woman's story that she may be Shannon Marie Sherrill.

And Sherrill's father, William Michael Sherrill, who received a startling call Saturday from the woman who claims she may be his daughter, said DNA tests were planned to determine if she is his child.

He said he was stunned when the woman called him Saturday night after speaking to his ex-wife, Dorothy Sherrill, who still lives in Thorntown near the area where their daughter vanished.

"I had questions in my mind that I was going to ask her, and when I got her on the phone, my mind just went blank," said Sherrill, who manages a service station in Tipton.

Indiana State Police (search) remain tightlipped about their investigation of the woman's claims. First Sgt. Dave Bursten declined Tuesday to discuss the investigation, including whether DNA tests were under way.

"There is no new news," he said.

But Sherrill said Thorntown police have told him DNA tests were planned to compare his and his former wife's DNA to that of the woman. "We gave blood samples years ago, so they have our DNA and they're waiting on hers," he said.

Virginia Beach, Va., police, meanwhile, are helping investigate the woman's story by checking out names and addresses she gave Indiana State Police, police spokesman Jimmy Barnes said.

He said it was not clear whether the woman, who apparently lived in Virginia at some point, still lives in the Virginia Beach (search) area.

One of the names Indiana authorities gave Virginia Beach police could be a name the woman was using when she supposedly was taken to Virginia Beach as a child. The other names could be the names of people involved in the abduction, Barnes said.

Shannon Marie Sherrill vanished Oct. 5, 1986, as she played hide-and-seek with neighbor children outside her mother's mobile home in Thorntown, about 30 miles northwest of Indianapolis.

If the woman's story is true and she is Shannon Sherrill, now 22 years old, it would be among just a handful of cases where a missing child resurfaced after more than a decade, said Ben Ermini, director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's missing children division.

"Missing 17 years and then located -- it isn't very common, although it does happen. Certainly here at the center we never give up hope," Ermini said.

In cases of children missing for several years, DNA is almost always used to help determine their biological parents, Ermini said. Sometimes, dental records and fingerprints are used.

The quickest that DNA test results could be completed would be within about two days of submission of blood or tissue samples to a laboratory, Ermini said.

Shannon Sherrill's name is one of about 5,500 active cases dating back to the 1970s that is maintained by Ermini and others at the Alexandria, Va.-based center.

After Shannon Sherrill disappeared in 1986, hundreds of people scoured fields and wooded lots for three days to no avail.

"The whole town was looking for her, everybody," said Shirley Childress, 63, a retired nursing home worker who has lived in Thorntown nearly 20 years.

Childress said the case of the missing girl with a mop of brown hair and angelic face still haunts the town. She would like to believe that the woman is Shannon Sherrill.

"I would be pretty happy if it's true, if it's her, but I don't know. I hope it is," she said.