Originally posted on 09/13/05
Mother of missing girl clings to fading hope
By Susan Weich
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
FOLEY -- Six months after 13-year-old Bianca Piper disappeared without a trace near her home in Lincoln County, her mother knows hope is fading that Bianca will be found alive.
"I'm torn between wanting and not wanting to know," said her mother, Shannon Tanner. "I'd almost rather think she's out there somewhere and not know where she's at than know something terrible has happened."
Bianca has been missing since Tanner dropped the girl off about a mile from their home in Foley on a cold night in March. Tanner thought that walking back to their residence would give Bianca a chance to calm down after an argument.
The girl suffers from bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and uses several medications to help control her mood swings and aggressive tendencies. Tanner said that a mental health therapist had recommended the walks but that Tanner had used the idea only once before - the night before Bianca disappeared.
Tanner said that on the first night, Bianca had met her with a packed bag when her mother got home from work and said she wanted to go to the hospital because she could feel herself losing control. Bianca had been hospitalized previously when doctors needed to adjust her medication, Tanner said.
She encouraged Bianca to try taking a walk instead.
"She came back, was happy, felt better and did her chores," Tanner said. "We had a great evening together, and she didn't mention going to the hospital anymore."
So when Tanner got home the night of March 10 and Bianca did not want to wash dishes, Tanner drove the girl down their gravel road and dropped her off with a flashlight just past a bridge that spans a creek.
247 exhausted leads
Bianca never returned, and police have exhausted 247 leads trying to find her. Authorities have not been able to confirm even one legitimate sighting of Bianca. The lack of evidence points to foul play, police say.
Tanner has been criticized for leaving her daughter to walk home alone, and some postings on Internet message boards have even speculated that she was involved in her daughter's disappearance. Police have questioned Tanner as well as her live-in boyfriend, Jim Felt, and consider neither of them suspects.
Tanner said that had not stopped the suspicions or cruel comments. Recently, a new co-worker who did not know who she was, but learned where she lived, asked how close her home was to where Bianca went missing. When she told him she lived right there, he said he thought Bianca's mother had killed her.
"I said, 'Really? What makes you say that?'" Tanner said. "And he said, 'Because she didn't cry enough in the first few days of the interviews.' I told him that I was Bianca's mother and that I did not hurt my daughter."
In the ensuing months, Tanner has used whatever means she had available to her to cope with her daughter's disappearance.
Initially, she had the support of legions of volunteers and emergency personnel who searched more than 270 square miles - nearly half of Lincoln County - for Bianca.
The Shawn Hornbeck Foundation lent a hand as did Rachelfind and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which offered a consultant to aid the team of Lincoln County sheriff's detectives investigating the case.
The TV shows "America's Most Wanted" and "Without A Trace" featured Bianca's case, and her image was sent out on thousands of postcards and fliers that reached as far as Maryland.
Tanner gave the search a personal touch when she strung a set of lights designed by Bianca's idol, Hilary Duff, in the front room window to guide Bianca home.
Tanner's mother, Carol Young, blanketed homeless shelters with e-mails about Bianca.
The women sought the counsel of psychics, who in one case told Tanner that Bianca had been picked up in a van by a sex offender and in another told Young that Bianca was not alive.
But six months later, the only new lead is an unidentified corpse found recently on Kaskaskia Island in Illinois. A forensics expert will compare Bianca's dental records with the remains, those of a female between the ages of 13 and 20, police said.
Undaunted, Tanner recently worked with police to make an updated flier about Bianca and used money raised mostly from family members to post a $10,000 reward. The money is in addition to a $5,000 reward offered by a private foundation.
Tanner also has planned a vigil from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday near their home on McIntosh Hill Road where Bianca was last seen. Tanner has had special T-shirts made up with Bianca's image. She spearheaded an effort to start a Web site, www.findbianca.org
where people can post leads about Bianca.
Tanner says that Bianca is always on her mind.
"Some days, I cry all the way to work," she said. "And there have been a couple of days where I haven't even been able to work."
She worries that some personal difficulties she has had since Bianca disappeared might stop people from caring about her daughter.
In May, Tanner filed for a restraining order against Felt but dropped it after the two reconciled.
Two months later, Tanner was charged with assaulting her 18-year-old daughter, who also suffers from a bipolar disorder in addition to schizophrenia.
Her daughter had stopped taking her medication, and Tanner said that when police arrived, she was trying to keep the girl from hurting herself. The Division of Family Services removed Tanner's third daughter, 15, from their home afterward, and she is living with Young now.
Police say they believe the incidents are unrelated to Bianca's disappearance, but Tanner is concerned about what others might think.
"I don't want people to stop caring because they think the family is messed up or that I might have something to do with it," she said. "There's a little girl missing, and we need to find her."http://www.stltoday.com/