Cleveland case inspires hope, realism

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As Carlena Williams watched the news reports on TV, she eventually had to change the channel.

“I did get frustrated by it,” she said.

She was watching coverage of the incredible story of three missing women, found alive in Cleveland after a decade.

While the Cleveland news was wonderful to her, Carlena said it brought back a familiar feeling of loss.

Carlena is the grandmother of Shannon Sherrill, who disappeared at the age of six in 1986. The little girl had been playing a game of hide and seek near her Thorntown home, and that was the last time her family ever saw her.

Years of searching turned up no trace of Shannon, until the case was in the national spotlight again in 2003. That’s when a Kansas woman named Donna Walker came forward, claiming to the long-lost Shannon.

It was all a hoax. The family’s sudden new hope was dashed.

“I ended up in the hospital over that deal,” Carlena said. “For 17 days.”

Lois Cole, who is Shannon’s great aunt says it’s hard for her family to know how to feel after the Cleveland case. While the family hopes to one day find Shannon, they admit that trying to find closure is taking its toll.

“Every time they find remains of somebody, you think, ‘Maybe that’s her,’” Lois said. “And it’s never her, so there’s never closure.”

Sgt. Paul Scott, who leads the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s Missing Person Unit said it’s good for families to have hope that their loved one will be found. But it’s also important to be realistic.

“We know that the odds of (a case like Cleveland happening again) are slim,” Scott said. “But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t give us hope that couldn’t happen here.”

Many Indiana families are holding out hope.

According to statewide records, there are 964 active missing person cases in Indiana; 539 of those involve juveniles, 425 involve adults.

One reason the numbers are so high is that a missing person case is never closed until it is resolved. Until the person is found alive, or dead, the case remains active.

“We’re always seeking out information from individuals,” Scott said. “We go back repeatedly.”

Scott also said the Cleveland case, while highly extraordinary, can also serve to inspire investigators who work in the business of finding lost people.

“It gives all of us hope that there’s a possibility that something like that could transpire here,” he said.

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