17 months, and still hopeful
It was the Sunday before Christmas -- December 18, 2011. Phoenix Coldon attended church as part of a family whose faith is at the forefront of every decision they make. And she shot a few hoops in the yard.
It was unseasonably warm in St. Louis, and as Goldia Coldon watched her daughter play basketball, she thought Phoenix looked like she was still 12.
"Where has the time gone?" Coldon wondered. Phoenix was 23, and earlier in the year had moved back home while she finished college.
Coldon looked forward to decorating the Christmas tree with Phoenix later in the day. Her daughter was much better at it. It was an artificial tree with lights -- nothing too fancy. Phoenix loved to rip open presents on Christmas morning and chided her mom for buying expensive wrapping paper. So Coldon began using newspaper for some of the gifts. She always took care to hide one small gift among the tree branches so Phoenix would have to search it out.
On that Sunday afternoon, Phoenix climbed into her 1998 Chevy Blazer. The windows were tinted, so her mother could see only a silhouette. She knew her daughter often sat in her truck and talked on her cell phone.
About 3 p.m., Phoenix's father saw her pull out of the driveway. He thought she was going to the convenience store around the corner or maybe to a friend's house.
But Phoenix never returned.
By midnight, the Coldons knew something was wrong. It was not like Phoenix to leave and not say anything to her parents.
The couple spent the next day on the phone with friends, family and hospitals. When no clues surfaced, they called police.
Phoenix's Blazer turned up at a tow yard in East St. Louis, Illinois, on January 2. It had been found stopped on a street, with the motor running. Her purse was still in the car; designer eyeglasses sat on the console.
In the first few days, Lawrence would say: "Well, I think Phoenix left here to meet someone and something happened."
"Are you saying Phoenix is dead?" Goldia would ask.
"No, I'm not saying that."
Goldia used to say things such as: "Phoenix is not gone." Or, "The Lord has not taken her back."
Now, after all this time, she can finally say the word: "dead."
"Phoenix Lucille Coldon is not dead," she says defiantly.
Lucille is Goldia's middle name. It was her mother's, too. Goldia thought it was appropriate that Phoenix started walking on April 26, 1989, the day Lucille Ball died. Later, Phoenix watched "I Love Lucy" and carried a Lucille Ball lunchbox.
Phoenix was home-schooled and learned to play piano. She had started taking violin lessons from a friend who was second seat with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. She owned three guitars.
She fenced -- foil. And had a 3.667 GPA at the end of her first year at Missouri Baptist University.
It was only after Phoenix disappeared that the Coldons discovered she had lived with a man in an apartment for which the Coldons paid. All along, they'd believed Phoenix was living with a girlfriend. They also discovered that she had dropped her classes at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and was no longer enrolled there.
These were disturbing facts. The Coldons wondered whether someone had gotten inside their daughter's head.
So far, their search has been in vain.
Officer Randy Vaughn of the St. Louis County Police Department says Phoenix Coldon's missing person case is still under investigation. The news from Cleveland led him to think about the Coldons and all the other families in America who have a loved one missing.
"They're being rewounded," he says. "It gives you hope in one respect, but it also reopens all the emotions."
On May 23, Goldia and Lawrence will celebrate the 25th birthday of their only child. It will also be the day they will have to say goodbye to the house that she called home.
Goldia and Phoenix had house-hunted together when the family moved from Bakersfield, California, to St. Louis 12 years ago. They'd gotten lost in a subdivision and spotted a ranch with a walkout basement for sale.
"Mom, I like this house," Phoenix said to Goldia. "This is the kind of neighborhood we should live in. Can we afford this?"
Goldia was a retired social worker; Lawrence a computer systems engineer. They restarted life in that house on Countrybrook Drive.
When Phoenix disappeared, Lawrence had been downsized out of his job. The couple spent their mortgage money on a private investigator. The bank foreclosed on their house, though later it agreed to a short sale.
"We owed two and half times what we sold the house for," Goldia says.
The couple has to move out by May 23. Goldia has started downsizing -- she has sold her bedroom furniture already -- but every time she begins packing, she breaks down. It's hard to put away all the memories. That's all she has of her daughter now.
But then again, she says, "It's just a house. It's not a home anymore because Phoenix is not here."
Last year on Mother's Day -- her first without her daughter -- Goldia just kept praying for Phoenix's return.
"It didn't happen so I said, 'How about the next day, God?' "
DeJesus, one of the freed women in Cleveland, gave her mother, Nancy Ruiz, the best Mother's Day present any mother could hope for, DeJesus' father, Felix Ruiz, told the media.
Goldia Coldon wishes she could be Nancy.
Instead, she has plans Sunday to test her strength and pack up her house. Time is running out. Moving day will be here soon.
The Coldons don't know where they will go.
"We don't want to sign a one-year lease, because I don't think Phoenix would want to stay here," Goldia says.