25 years later, a Georgia mother isn't giving up on finding her missing daughter
Shy'Kemmia Pate was just 8 years old when she vanished from her family's porch in Unadilla, Ga., — a town roughly 45 miles outside of Macon — on Sept. 4, 1998.
It's been over two decades since then, and Shy'Kemmia (or Shy Shy, as her family and friends called her) hasn't been seen or heard from since. But Veronica Pate believes that her daughter is still alive all these years later — hoping that the police or someone knows where she may be located.
"She's been missing for 25 years, but I still feel like she's alive out there somewhere," Pate told NPR.
Shy Shy was playing outside when her older sister, LaSwanda, left to fill her car with gas ahead of their family's trip to attend a local high school football game together, her mother said.
But once her sister returned home, she noticed that Shy Shy was gone. At first, her family believed she went ahead to the football game with a friend. But as night fell, panic started to set in.
"We got scared because [this] was something we weren't used to," Pate said.
For months, law enforcement officials and family members went from door to door across Unadilla looking for any sign of Shy Shy.
Law enforcement officials from neighboring counties assisted with the initial search, while residents in the neighborhood where Shy Shy grew up opened their doors and assisted in the search efforts. But nothing ever came of it.
Shy Shy would have turned 34 last month. And despite the years that have passed, the efforts to locate her are far from over.
NCMEC Age Progression shows what Shy’Kemmia Pate may look like today at age 34.— National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (@MissingKids) November 3, 2023
Shy Shy's sister, LaSwanda, was the last person to see her. “I drove by the house and saw her sitting on the porch,” LaSwanda said. “She waved to me. I went up the street to get gas for the car, and… pic.twitter.com/XhEAg1FDVo
"Somebody out there knows something," Randy Lamberth, an investigator with the Dooly County, Ga., Sheriff's Office, told NPR.
Lamberth, who served as the lead investigator on the case from the beginning, says the sheriff's department — with help from both the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children — is continuously combing through new and old leads in hopes of making a break in the case to return Shy Shy home to her family.
"We have followed up on those [leads] and contacted these agencies to see what they've got," Lamberth said.
He told NPR that over the years, his office has continued to receive several leads from across the state and even places as far away as Detroit. But so far, the leads have come up with no promising results.
It's common for people of color to go missing, research shows
Last year, more than 546,000 people were reported missing in the U.S., according to research from the National Crime Information Center.
And while Black people make up just about 13% of the U.S. population, nearly 40% of all missing person cases are people of color, according to data by the Black and Missing Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to missing persons of color.
"Until you have concrete information as to what happened to the missing individual, we cannot give up hope in finding them," Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, told NPR.
Wilson stressed that time is critical in missing persons cases, as the first 24 to 48 hours are the most important in the search. Wilson says the longer a person waits to file the initial report, the more information in the search can be lost.
In Shy Shy's case, her family and friends quickly contacted authorities to begin the search for her that same day.
"Whether they are found alive or deceased, we have to continue to search for that missing individual so that their families can have the answers that they deserve," she added.
Decades later, investigators are still wanting the public's help
Investigators and national agencies say they have continued to follow dozens of leads in the case, hoping that somebody will come forward with what happened to Shy Shy 25 years ago.
And thanks to new technology, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children released a new age-progressed photo of what she would look like as an adult — hoping that somebody will recognize her.
"Our age progression images have played a pivotal role in reuniting missing children with their families," Angeline Hartmann, director of communications for the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, told local Atlanta TV station 11Alive.
Veronica says that regardless of what the outcome is, she hopes that she is able to reunite with her daughter — doing whatever it takes to bring her home.
"Even if she doesn't want to come back here ... I just want that stamp to say she's located and I never gave up looking for her," Pate said. "And no matter how long it takes, I'm not going to stop searching for my daughter."
Wilson echoes these sentiments.
"Shy Shy's family deserves answers as to what happened to her," Wilson said. "She disappeared over two decades ago. But we continue to hold on to hope that they will get the answer that they deserve ... we hope that it's to bring her home."
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