Family still searching for answers in Spring Lake disappearance - WRBL

Family still searching for answers in Spring Lake disappearance

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SPRING LAKE, N.C. -

It's a missing persons case that shocked the town of Spring Lake.

Take a short walk into a section of woods off of Bragg Blvd., and you'll come across a spot where the Patterson home stood 22 years ago.

The home is now gone, but the memories of 7-year-old Jennifer Patterson remain.

On June 23, 1991, Jennifer's father was going to work and Jenny was going to walk to a friend's house. But police said she never made it.

"She just vanished into thin air," recalled Alan Patterson, Jenny's father.

Patterson said Jenny's mom called out for her that afternoon with no answer. Once he got home, they both knew something was wrong.

"I got here somewhere around 6 and Jenny was gone. And I said we need to get the police involved," said Patterson.

Police were unable to become involved immediately because Jenny hadn't been missing for 24 hours.

But Patterson was insistent, saying it was a 7-year-old child that had gone missing.

Once authorities were able to help, investigators searched the entire area surrounding the Patterson home for days. There was even a story of her possibly showing up a gas station nearby but police never found any sign of Jenny.

It left the town and her family to wonder why.

"I was thinking how can this happen? They have to find her. When are they going to find her?" said Angela Rodgers, Jenny's aunt. "She was everything a 7-year-old girl is."

Investigators originally on the case said there were no witnesses and eventually every lead fell through.

WNCN searched through old newspapers at the Local and State History Room of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center. Newspaper articles showed the FBI and even a psychic joined the search but with no luck.

"We love Jenny very much. We miss her," said her father. "I mean, her pictures are on my wall and I think about this every day."

For years the trail went cold, no new leads and no new information, but there's a new police chief in Spring Lake and his department is taking a second look at the case.

"We have not given up," said Spring Lake Police Chief Troy McDuffie.

The Spring Lake Police Department was shutdown in 2009 after the state found corruption within the department. A new police force has since been reinstated, now under new leadership. A new set of investigators means new sets of eyes. But based on the existing case files, they said there isn't much evidence to go on.

"We're just looking to talk to anyone with any information," said McDuffie.

"I believe Jenny is out there," said Patterson. "Nobody has been able to say any different and I'm going to hold out hope."

"If you know something make the call," pleaded Rodgers, "It's a simple five minutes of your life to get back 22 years of ours."

Jenny's mother told police her child was last wearing a bathing suit and no shoes.

If you have any information about this case call the Spring Lake Police Department at (910) 436-0350 or you can call their tip line at 1-855-770-TIPS or (1-855-770-8477)

Jonathan Rodriguez

Born in California but growing up in South Carolina, Jonathan Rodriguez joined WNCN in June 2013 as a digital journalist. More>>

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