Volunteers keep up search for missing IU student

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - John Holliday pulls into the lot and climbs out of his pickup. It's a Friday only a couple of weeks ago, and he's out on the trail once more.

This time it's a small patch of scrub just north of Bloomington, along West Acuff Road and Ind. 37.

He walks across Acuff toward the stretch of private property that's covered with tall grass, briar patches and weeds seeping with spittlebug froth. He offers warnings about three things -- ticks, sunburn and deep holes hidden by the overgrowth. He deftly jumps a creek to inspect an old well. A camera is strapped around his neck; he's dressed in green and camouflage. The red laces to his sneakers come untied and remain so for the next hour.

The Indianapolis resident has his reason for picking this particular plot. Patches of gravel and broken pavement indicate a road or a driveway might have once been there.

It's a secluded spot, one a truck could easily access.

"I'm not out for vengeance. I just want this little girl," he tells The Herald-Times (http://bit.ly/1hVxDdb ).

"Bad choices were made on June 3."

He's referring to June 2011, just after Lauren Spierer had finished her sophomore year at Indiana University, where she was studying apparel merchandising. The 20-year-old from New York started her summer hanging out in Bloomington, waiting for her boyfriend, Jesse Wolff, to finish a summer class.

It's been reported that Spierer, barefoot and without her phone, walked alone toward her Smallwood Plaza apartment after a night of drinking and partying at Kilroy's Sports Bar and 5 North Townhomes. It's been reported Jason "Jay" Rosenbaum stood on his second-floor balcony and watched her turn a corner at 11th Street and College Avenue about 4:30 a.m. that Friday morning.

She never made it home. Vanished.

Mike Claps, an IU student at the time of Spierer's disappearance, remembers seeing Spierer that night.

"I saw a girl that had no business being as intoxicated as she was with the people she was with," he says briefly by phone.

An appeal for 134 days' worth of Claps' phone records is just one of an extensive assortment of document and subpoena requests attorneys for the missing girl's parents have filed in federal court.

For Robert and Charlene Spierer, the search for their daughter has taken a litigious turn.

In a civil negligence lawsuit, the Spierers claim Corey Rossman and Rosenbaum, IU students at the time, supplied alcohol to their intoxicated and incapacitated daughter and failed to care for her that night, resulting in her likely death.

While the Spierers seek answers in court, ordinary people, including John Holliday, continue physical searches and take to the Internet to discuss details of the case.

Like Holliday today, Todd Matthews once was a volunteer searcher obsessed with his own case.

Now, he's the national director of case management and communications for the Department of Justice's National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a database of missing person and unidentified decedent records.

In 1968, a man -- who would later become Matthews' father-in-law -- found the remains of a woman under a tarp near Eagle Creek in Kentucky. For 30 years, the woman was known only as the "Tent Girl."

After visiting the unidentified woman's grave, Matthews spent a decade working to find her home. He finally connected with her sister in 1998, thanks to the Internet.

"Tent Girl" was Barbara Ann Hackman-Taylor, and Matthews was one of the Internet's first cyber sleuths.

"It's just such a mystery. It doesn't compute with people," he said of the fascination, intrigue and obsession that can accompany missing person cases.

Matthews doesn't consider web sleuths wannabe cops.

"It's not just a job for them. ...You tend to do the things you like to do very well," he said by phone. "They can be managed properly, and they can contribute. We've proved it, more than once."

Shelly Leonard starts each morning with chores at her Gosport home. Then, she gets on the computer.

First, she checks the Facebook pages she helps moderate, "Voices for Lauren" and "Lauren Spierer: We Want the Truth Discussion Page." She moves over to Websleuths.com. She peruses news websites and looks for new articles to post. She receives the Google alerts. She reads all comments.

At a minimum, she surfs the Web 90 minutes a day for all things related to Lauren Spierer.

Some days, it's more like five or six hours.

"It's a wrong that needs to be righted," she says by telephone. She feels remorse that the Spierers sent their youngest daughter 800 miles away from home to attend college here, thinking she'd be safe.

"They trusted this town and these people to take care of her, and they were let down."

A cancer survivor, Leonard requires reconstructive surgery. She has the time -- and her own reason -- to be involved. "It helps me to not think about what I'm going through. At least, Charlene knows that I'm trying and that I care."

On the "Voices for Lauren Spierer" Facebook page, words of support and encouragement are offered to Spierer's family.

Posts take an angry and accusatory tone on the "Lauren Spierer: We Want the Truth Discussion Page."

Lisa Anderson-Sipes, of Bedford, often writes in all caps. In a recent post, she attaches a photograph lifted from the Twitter account of Rossman's current employer, a real estate company in Boston.

In the photo, Rossman wears oversized sunglasses; the caption reads, "Corey's feeling fabulous!"

"Not for long, punk!!!" Anderson-Sipes writes.

Several of the case followers acknowledge having served sentences in "Facebook jail," which deprives its cyber inmates of the ability to post when harassment is reported.

They write, and speak, in an abbreviated language. LE is law enforcement. PIO, person of interest. They use a PIO's initials, rather than full names, to avoid allegations of defamation.

And so, Ann Davis calls them "the guilty ones." She uses the page to vent frustration.

"I watched the page sort of turn on Lauren and the Spierers. It was Machiavellian to just watch. It was just a campaign to exonerate the friends. It just really drew me in to how evil the whole thing was. I suspect there's a lot of power and money with the defendants in this case and with the PIOs in general," Davis says.

Some, like Davis and Holliday, have never met the Spierers. They study the case from afar.

On Dec. 3, 2013, a group of women moved from behind their computer screens.

They joined the Spierers in a federal courtroom in Indianapolis.

Shelly Leonard. Suzanne May, a self-employed Bloomington resident. Ellen Carter, a retired probation officer and innkeeper from Nashville, and her daughter, Hannah, a teacher. And others.

There is a commonality among these women, strangers three years ago.

They are mothers with daughters. This is personal.

"You look at Charlene's face, and you realize she's not giving up. If she's not giving up, then we have to stand with her," May says by phone.

"This happened in our town, on our watch. We can't give up."

Holliday says that, at first, he didn't pay much attention to the news of Lauren Spierer's disappearance.

Then, her voice came to him in a dream, faint and unintelligible. In the dream, he stood near a lake.

He spent months searching Griffy.

He keeps a shovel in his truck, occasionally digs up mounds of dirt. He's mistaken deer bones for human remains more than once. He says a prayer before he calls police.

Holliday takes an Occam's razor approach to his searches. "The simplest thing is probably it," he says.

He returns to the area of 11th and College over and over.

In April, Holliday joined members of the Lauren Spierer Facebook groups to tie light blue ribbons near Smallwood Plaza, Kilroy's Sports Bar and 5 North Townhomes.

They saw people moving out of Rosenbaum's old apartment and asked if they could go inside.

Holliday hoped for a sense of understanding. He stood on a second-floor balcony, saw the view of 11th and College for himself.

He took a few minutes to "just be Jay."

There was no epiphany.

And so Holliday continues the search. Sure, there are days he wants to quit.

"And you're in the truck, and you're headed down 37 and you're looking again," he says.

"Every parent, no matter what their child has done, right or wrong, has a right to know where their child is, has a right to take their child home."


Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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