BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Eleven years after an Indiana University student disappeared while on a bike ride, the scene in this college town is eerily similar, with parents and volunteers frantically searching for another missing woman with no sign of what happened to her.
Police they say they have few leads and no suspects but believe foul play is to blame for the disappearance of 20-year-old Lauren Spierer, a petite sophomore from Greenburgh, N.Y., last seen leaving a friend's apartment early Friday after a night out.
"When somebody at 4:30 in the morning — no shoes and has earlier been drinking — goes out and just disappears off a street corner, we feel like there certainly could be foul play involved," Bloomington police Lt. Bill Parker said during a news conference Tuesday. "If she had just decided to go to a buddy's house, we would have heard that by now."
For some on the campus of 40,000 students about 50 miles south of Indianapolis, the agony is all too familiar.
Those searching for Spierer include Eric Behrman, whose daughter, Jill, was 19 when she disappeared in May 2000 while on a bike ride near Bloomington. Hunters found her skeletal remains three years later in a remote field about 15 miles from the city. John R. Myers II was charged later that year and is now serving a 65-year sentence in her death.
"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."
Police looking for clues about Spierer used a battering ram to break into the security room and mail room at her apartment building 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. But the apartment complex issued a statement indicating police were after computer hard drives and no one was available to let officers into the locked area.
Spierer's parents, Robert and Charlene, and volunteers plan to resume what have become daily searches Wednesday in hopes of finding their daughter.
"We are continuing in earnest every day to search for her," a visibly exhausted Robert Spierer told reporters as his wife, Charlene, wiped tears away. "We're not going to give up."
Bloomington resident Dawn Adams, whose son, Wade Steffey, went missing at Purdue University in 2007, was among those helping look for Lauren Spierer. She said health problems prevented her from searching for her son, whose body was found two months later in a high-voltage utility room on campus, where he'd been fatally shocked.
"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."
Parker said Spierer went to a sports bar near her apartment with friends Thursday night, then went to a friend's apartment before leaving around 4:30 a.m. Friday. Her friend watched Spierer walk to a corner near his apartment, but no one has seen her since.
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 cellphone and shoes in the bar.
Authorities directing volunteers have told them to look for clues — a stray piece of clothing left on the ground or anything that raises suspicion. Fliers with Spierer's photograph and a physical description of her are posted around Bloomington and on the Indiana University campus.
Bloomington residents say they hope for a better outcome in the Spierer case 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."
Robert Spierer, meanwhile, begged for anyone with any information about his daughter's disappearance to come forward.
"It doesn't matter how casual the sighting was. Every little piece of info we get is important," he said.