NANTICOKE — Pauline Bailey gave an impassioned speech on Patriot Square Monday evening, asking anyone to come forward with information about her missing daughter, Phylicia Thomas.
Nearby, bravely holding a candle in the cold air was one of Bailey’s granddaughters.
Phylicia Edwards, 12, is named in honor of her aunt, who went missing Feb. 11, 2004, and is presumed murdered. Her remains have never been found, despite many searches.
Phylicia Thomas would be 36 today. And while 15 years have passed since she was last seen at a party in Hunlock Township, the hope to find her and bring those responsible to justice remains strong.
“We love her and we will never forget her,” Bailey said before Monday’s vigil began on Patriot Square. “And we will find her and we will say goodbye to her. I just can’t understand how those who did this have not been found. They could still be out there somewhere.”
A party and many searches
Judy Lorah Fisher, a friend of Bailey’s and the person who has spearheaded the search for the young woman’s remains, said people have told her and Bailey that Phylicia was last seen alive while attending a party inside a trailer off Golf Course Road and Timber Lane.
Steve Martin, a man who was a target of state police investigators in the case, was 32 when he took his own life while at the state prison at Camp Hill on Aug. 10, 2005, while serving a sentence for causing a fatal vehicle crash in Wilkes-Barre in December 2004.
State police have not released names of any possible suspects in the Phylicia Thomas case, but Fisher and members of Phylicia’s family believe that investigators feel Martin was responsible for Phylicia’s death, and that as many as three others were involved.
Last year brought some hope, but ultimately no new leads.
State police have said they conducted a search with cadaver dogs trained to detect human remains, but no “hits” were recorded.
Experienced handlers with Stroudsburg-based nonprofit Rescue International visited the site again last year, and search dogs indicated several times that they detected something.
Excavations were carried out, but no remains were found.
Fisher, who is in California and attended Monday’s vigil through FaceTime, said she will return to the area soon and the search will resume in the spring.
‘We know who did it’
Glen Stanley Hamilton, a family friend and son of the late humanitarian activist Stan Hamilton, had his arm around Bailey as he tried to make sense of the 15-year-old case.
“We know who did it,” Hamilton said. “How can investigators turn a blind eye to this case for 15 years? Are they sending a message that murder is OK? What if this was their daughter? Would they ever give up?”
Yvonne Tagnani, Phylicia Thomas’ cousin, was standing with Edwards.
“She’s proud to be here to participate in the vigil,” Tagnani said as Edwards became emotional. “And she looks so much like her aunt Phylicia. Even though Phylicia’s nieces and nephews never knew her, they know everything and they want to see her brought home.”
It was an emotional evening for everyone in attendance, especially when Francis Kane of Plains Township played Pink Floyd’s 1975 song “Wish You Were Here.”
The song goes:
“How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground.
What have we found
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.”
Jocelyn Thomas, Phylicia’s sister and mother of Phylicia Edwards, has been at the site several times to assist in the search.
“Yes I will go back down there and help,” she said. “Nobody should ever be thrown away like garbage and forgotten.”
Tagnani summed up why the 35 people turned out of the vigil and why the search must continue.
“We love each other,” she said. “But this is like a funeral every year. We have to find Phylicia.”
Tagnani said her cousin was always happy and she enjoyed the outdoors.
“We need to bring her home,” she said. “Then everybody would be at peace — we would have closure.”
Kevin Coughlin, representing Nanticoke City Council, attended the vigil with his wife, Ann Marie.
“We’re here to support the family,” Coughlin said. “We can’t imagine what they’ve been going through for 15 years.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.