Lafayette, LA — The search for Mickey Shunick gained nationwide attention before it ended one year ago Wednesday. But the spirit that led hundreds of people to look for her continues today.
Margaret Bearb went to Shunick's grave Wednesday and was amazed to discover how many other people had been there, too.
"All the new butterflies that were there [Wednesday], and the new flowers that were there, just gave me such a peace of mind to know that I'm not the only one who's going out there and looking at it and smiling," she said.
Shunick was reported missing May 19, 2012. Her body was found buried near a cemetery in Evangeline Parish almost three months later. Brandon Lavergne eventually confessed to her murder, as well as that of another woman, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Bearb was a regular volunteer in the search for Shunick and says she is still sickened by Lavergne and the panic and sadness he inflicted on the Lavergne family.
"We worked so hard, everybody, from May 19 to that date that she was found, and he knew all along that she was deceased from Day One," she stated. "The efforts, the hours, the money; it was just absolutely horrendous.
"And the family, knowing that the family still had hope. And he saw it on TV that the family still had hope. So that's, I think, the most discouraging and most disappointing thing of all."
But Bearb believes Shunick has become a symbol of strength and courage, and the evidence can be found in the decorations at Shunick's grave site.
"She's a hero," she stated, "and I think people are worshipping that, and that's just great."
Missing persons cases, such as Shunick's, tend to bring a much higher level of community involvement than most cases law enforcement officers work on a daily basis.
"We really need as many eyes and ears as we have out there to help us solve those cases," stated Cpt. Craig Stansbury of the Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office.
The majority of evidence collected during a missing persons investigation comes in the first day or two.
"That's where the public comes in. In we can make sure that story stays alive, and the information stays on people's minds, you just never know. And I know the family is the same way. And we're just there waiting for that one tip, or that one (piece of) information that we'll be able to follow up (with) that does lead to some type of conclusion, a positive conclusion."
Detectives also form bonds with the families of the victims, because they spend a lot of time together and they both have same goal: to bring their loved one home.
"As much as we're hoping, there, to support them, believe it or not, the family can support law enforcement and motivate us just in the same type of way," Stansbury said.
Louisiana has dozens of unsolved missing persons cases, some dating back more than two decades. But Stansbury points to cases such as Jaycee Dugard, as well as the women rescued from Ariel Castro's house in Cleveland, as proof that victim's families should never lose hope.
"These stories have shown us that you never give up," he said. "That there's always that hope. And you mentioned it, people have been re-located and found after 10 years, or even longer years."