The family of Alexis Tiara Murphy, 17, finally have some semblance of closure after 7 years of searching for her—though the circumstances were devastatingly tragic. Alexis left her home in Shipman, Virginia to visit the nearby city of Lynchburg. She was last seen on surveillance video at a Lovingston gas station. After seven long years and multiple searches, her remains were finally discovered on a Lovingston property on December 3, 2020.
It wasn’t until February 5, 2021 that the Chief Medical Examiner in Richmond was able to positively identify the remains as belonging to Alexis Murphy. In the wake of this tragic development, her family released a statement about their devastating loss, “While we have been grieving the loss of Alexis since 2013, we remained hopeful that she would be found alive and well. Alexis was the fashionista, athlete, and joker of our family; we were blessed to have loved her for 17 years, and her memory will continue to live on through us all.”
The original search conducted outside Lovingston in 2013 involved helicopters, canine units, and volunteers searching for any sign of the missing teenager. While they searched, police poured over the surveillance video from the Lovingston gas station. Police were able identify a person of interest on the surveillance video, Randy Taylor, 48. Taylor was arrested following the discovery of one of Alexis’s hairs in his camper. Despite Taylor’s insistence that he only knew Alexis for a brief time when she offered to help him buy marijuana, Taylor was convicted of her murder in 2014. In a statement, the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office stated “With the comprehensive investigation, successful prosecution by the Nelson County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, and the recovery of Alexis, this case is now no longer active.”
Amid civil unrest and a global pandemic, a community is crying out for help in finding their missing loved one. The people in Chenell Gilbert’s life are coming together on the west side of Indianapolis in search of the beloved substitute teacher who went missing on June 9.
The search party was organized by Danyette Smith, who told RTV6, “We need answers. We want to know where she is and we’re out here to today to look for her and hopefully find something that can give us answers to where she is.”
Volunteers are out pounding the pavement, handing out flyers bearing a picture of Chenell and the circumstances surrounding her disappearance to business owners and even leaving them under the mats outside Indianapolis homes, and sharing her story feverishly on social media—anything to keep Chenell’s face in the media amid a global pandemic and global unrest.
Chenell, a loving mother and grandmother, was last seen in the Sungate subdivision near Rockville and Girl School Roads in the first few hours of June 9. “For her children, her friends, her family—this is so unlike her,” Smith told RTV6. “This is just not her. They are extremely weary. We just need answers…On behalf of her daughters, her daughters truly miss her. They cannot wait until she returns home and each hour, each moment is agonizing and definitely scary for them.”
Chenell Gilbert was last seen wearing a black sweatsuit, with a black tote purse and braided hair. The group is asking anyone with information to contact police immediately so Chenelle can be reunited with her children and grandchildren.
All open missing person cases right now are facing a difficult challenge of maintaining media attention. Coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic has been taking media attention away from vulnerable missing persons. However, “There is a full community, a full force. There’s power behind this and we’re here to use that power to look for her,” said Danyette Smith. Anyone with information on Gilbert’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department at 317-327-3811 or Crime Stoppers at 317-262-TIPS.
Right after his daughter, Kierra Coles, Joseph Coles began living out of his car, keeping vigil in front of the building where she leaved, waiting for her to come home. But in the two years since her disappearance, Coles says that investigators have recently hit a brick wall in the search for Kierra, a then-26 year-old postal worker who was pregnant.
Kierra Coles was last seen leaving her apartment on the morning of October 2, 2018. She lived alone in the apartment on 81st street, and had just moved to the area less than four months ago, according to her mother, Karen Phillips. Kierra was in regular contact with her family, especially her mother. When she didn’t hear from Kierra all day on October 3rd, her mother felt something was wrong, but did not react immediately. After two days of radio silence, Karen Phillips called the Chicago police to conduct a welfare check on her daughter. “I went over to her house to call the police for them to do a well-being check because I had seen her car. So I said, okay she’s probably just in there, maybe she’s asleep or – I don’t know, I just didn’t feel right,” Phillips told the Pittsburg Courier.
The key piece of evidence so far in the case is surveillance footage recovered from a neighbor’s camera, which captured a person believed to be Kierra leaving the building, dressed for work in her postal carrier’s uniform. This has puzzled investigators a great deal, as Kierra called in sick to her job that morning, but still left the apartment dressed for work. The CCTV footage captured Kierra walking up and down the street in front of her building, past her car, before walking out of frame for the last time. Law enforcement and family members have been hoping to find similar CCTV footage that would illuminate more of Kierra’s movements, but no such leads have emerged. When the car was found, her cell phone and purse were inside, along with her lunch bag.
Although they now suspect foul play in the young woman’s disappearance, in the first few weeks of the search, police were not ready to deem Kierra’s disappearance suspicious. Because of Kierra’s age, there are not as many resources in place to locate her—not to mention that adults in the United States, for all intents and purposes, do have the right to go missing if they wish. However, Kierra’s family does not think that she vanished over her own accord, especially given that she was pregnant with her first child.
According to the National Institutes of Health, intimate partner violence affects roughly 300,000 pregnant women every year in the United States. Even more staggering, it knows no sociological boundaries. It affects pregnant women of all ages, colors, education, and religions. Heightened emotions and changes in body chemistry can already be triggers for depression, anxiety, and maladaptive behaviors such as smoking, drugs, and alcohol during pregnancy. It can also trigger intimate partner violence, or what’s more commonly known as domestic violence. The National Institutes of Health also report that homicide is the second-leading cause of injury-related death for pregnant women, superseded only by car accidents. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reported that between 1990 and 2004, more than 1300 pregnant women were murdered in the United States, most commonly by gunshot, stabbing, or strangling. More than two-thirds of these women were killed in their first trimester.
Kierra’s family has noted that they have received few updates from police since she was reported missing, but that USPS had been regularly in touch. Karen told 107.5 WGCI, “The postal inspector, he has been calling and checking in saying, ‘We are doing all we can. There’s things that we can’t tell you right now, but we’re doing all we can.’ I’m just guessing they just want to have facts together, they don’t want to give me bits and pieces.” The USPS has offered a $25,000 reward for anyone providing information that leads to Kierra’s safe return, and has been assisting in the investigation since it opened. As Kierra’s case continues to garner national attention, non-profits such as Black and Missing have placed Kierra’s name, picture, and case information on their website in hopes of spreading her story throughout the country.
Anyone with information on Coles’ whereabouts should call Area South detectives at (312) 747-8274.