BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Parents of other missing college students joined Tuesday in the search for a 20-year-old Indiana University sophomore, who police now say they fear was a victim of foul play.
Lauren Spierer left a friend's apartment early Friday after a night out. Her friend saw her walk to the corner, but that was the last anyone saw of the petite blond who never made it home. Authorities said they have no suspects and little information in the case but suspect foul play.
Dozens of volunteers met outside Spierer's apartment building Tuesday for another round of searching. Authorities directed some teams to look for clues — a stray piece of clothing left on the ground or anything that appeared out of place or raises suspicion. Other groups, armed with rolls of tape and posters bearing Spierer's face and physical description, fanned out downtown.
Police used a battering ram to break into a room off the apartment building's lobby Tuesday evening, according to WTHR-TV and WISH-TV reporters at the scene. Bloomington police declined comment, saying they planned to issue a statement Wednesday morning. The apartment complex issued a statement saying a staff member wasn't available to let police in when they came to obtain computer hard drives, which is why officers used a battering ram to gain entry.
The search has sparked painful memories for residents and the parents of another student who disappeared more than a decade ago. Jill Behrman was 19 when she went missing during a bike ride near Bloomington in 2000. Hunters found her skeletal remains three years later in a remote field about 15 miles from the city.
Eric Behrman, Jill's father, said he's urged Spierers' parents to stay positive, despite his dreadful ordeal.
"After a period of time — after you've searched, you've exhausted the contacts — that's when a real feeling of fear creeps in," Behrman said. "You realize no one knows where your child is."
The mother of Purdue University student Wade Steffey said health problems kept her from helping search for her son when he went missing in 2007. Dawn Adams said she appreciated the volunteers who looked for Steffey, who was found fatally shocked in a high-voltage utility room on campus two months later. That's why she and her husband came to help search for Spierer on Tuesday.
"It's important to be here to search for Lauren and support her parents," said Adams, a Bloomington resident. "I hope we find her. It's really important to look."
Spierer's parents said they'll continue to organize search parties three times a day and urged anyone with information to contact police. Her sister, Rebecca Spierer, thanked volunteers Tuesday as they drank water and slathered on sunscreen before heading out in the mid-morning heat.
"We are continuing in earnest every day to search for her," Robert Spierer told reporters at a news conference as his wife, Charlene, wiped away tears. "We're not going to give up."
Spierer, who grew up in Greenburgh, N.Y., was full of life and always on the go, her father said. She volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans, had a large circle of friends and spoke to her mother almost every day.
"She's a loving girl," Robert Spierer said.
Bloomington police Lt. Bill Parker said Spierer went to a sports bar Thursday night and then to a friend's nearby apartment. She left for her own place about 4:30 a.m. Her friend watched her walk to the street corner near his apartment.
"She's never been seen since," Parker said.
Investigators have Spierer's purse and some keys, which were found along the route to her friend's apartment. But Parker said they aren't sure whether Spierer left them on her way to or from her friend's home. She left her cell phone and shoes in the bar.
IU students joined the search, saying Spierer's disappearance was a jolt in what they consider an eclectic but safe college town.
"It's just shocking," said Keia Cole, 24. "It's a small town so you wouldn't think something like that would happen."
Bloomington residents hope for a better outcome in Spierer's disappearance than the Behrman case, which dragged on for years.
"Those people went through such a terrible, terrible time," said Sharon Phillips, a Bloomington resident with two adult daughters who volunteered with the search Tuesday. "It's heart wrenching. Anyone's who's a parent is just going to have that kind of a connection to these people."
Eric Behrman said the years spent searching for his daughter were difficult. At times, he said he wondered if he would ever have answers.
"I always hoped to have her come walking through the back door and say, 'Hi, Dad!'" he said. "You know after a while that chances are that won't happen. You have to prepare yourself for other situations."