This Wednesday marks the 13th anniversary of the disappearance of 20-year-old Brooke Leigh Henson. For all these years, her family has been waiting for answers, living in the impossible, chaotic terrain of the unknown.
Known to her friends as Brookey, she lived with her family in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. On July 3, 1999, Brookey hosted a party with some friends. She had a disagreement with her boyfriend Shaun Shirley and left at 2:30 A.M. to take a walk, planning to go to the convenience store just two blocks away. She hasn't been seen by family or friends since she strolled down Henderson Drive that night.
In the summer of 2006, hope burned bright for Brookey's family and friends. "Brooke Henson" had applied for a job as a nanny in Manhattan. When her prospective employer googled her name, she ran across reports that Brooke had been missing for seven years and called authorities.
When Travelers Rest law enforcement and New York authorities compared notes, the hopes of Brookey's loved ones were dashed. The real identity of the person using Brooke's name was Esther Elizabeth Reed, a Montana woman who dropped out of high school and disappearing from her home in 1999 shortly after her mother's death.
Using Brooke's name, birth date and social security number, she obtained an Ohio identification card in 2003. Then, using Brooke's identity, she took a high school equivalency exam and obtained her diploma. With that in hand, she took a college entrance exam in California the following year and was accepted to the California State University at Fullerton, Harvard and Columbia. She attended the latter, racking up more than $100,000 in student loans.
When she was located in her dorm room, she seemed willing to cooperate with authorities and then disappeared again. Law enforcement did not think she was responsible for whatever had happened to Brooke but still, they had more questions for Esther and they had charges to file over the identity theft.
In February 2008, Esther was finally apprehended in Chicago. She was sentenced to four years in prison. Unfortunately for the family and friends of the missing Brooke, Esther provided no information to lead to the whereabouts of their missing loved one. Brookey's fate is still unknown.
Wednesday, the Fourth of July, is Brooke Leigh Henson day at the CUE Center for Missing Persons, where they hope the extra attention on her case will bring someone forward. Travelers Police Chief Lance Crowe said, "We firmly believe that there are people out there who know what happened to Brooke and who, for whatever reason, haven't spoken to us. We need to hear from them."
If you are one of those people, please call the Travelers Rest Police Department at 864-23-CRIME of contact the CUE Center, 910-343-1131 during business hours or on the 24 hour tipline, 910-232-1687.
This year on Independence Day, give the family and friends of Brooke Leigh Henson independence from the unknown--they need and deserve answers. Don't make them wait another day.