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Searching for Shawnta: A Mother, A Daughter, A Sister

SEARCH FOR SHAWNTA.jpg

Her family has grieved. Her mother has thought up every horrific scenario. Her sister Cayla has lived an especially personal nightmare.

"Any time somebody [mistakes] me for my sister or, you know, messages me on Facebook thinking that I'm her, it hurts. A little piece of me dies every time that somebody [mistakes] me for her, because I so badly want it to be her. But it's me instead so...it hurts. And we don't want anyone to mistake myself for thinking that they see Shawnta, because she's still very much missing," Cayla says.

It's been over a month since Shawnta Pankey was last seen. In that month, a little girl has missed her mom and her mom has missed her birthday.

Walking through the town of Grangeville where Shawnta was living, the signs are all over. Posted on windows and bulletin boards are her face and her name.

But her family doesn't just want you to know Shawnta's face. They want you to know who Shawnta is.

"She has a really big heart. She loves her daughter unconditionally. They've kind of always been inseparable ever since she had Sophia. That's what kind of set this whole thing off," Cayla says of her sister's disappearance.

Shawnta was supposed to pick up her daughter after a camping trip the weekend of April 15th. When she didn't call and didn't show all night, Shawnta's mother reported her missing.

Less than two weeks after her disappearance, Shawnta's family hired Boise-based private investigator Daniel Landis. He spent several days in Grangeville talking to everyone he can; he's followed every lead.

"Oh yeah, we've put in hundred-and-some odd hours," Landis says.

Messages come from across the country. Shawnta's mother's heart skipped a beat when someone in British Columbia said they'd seen Shawnta and even had a picture.

It was another disappointing moment when the picture looked nothing like her daughter.

Over the weekend of May 19th, over 100 volunteers searched the area where Shawnta was reportedly last seen. A still-unidentified boyfriend told the Idaho County Sheriff's Office he and Shawnta were camping at Pine Bar, 15 miles outside of Cottonwood on the Salmon River. Searchers spread out for miles, including the area on Joseph Plains where Shawnta and the boyfriend lived for a while. Several businesses and individuals donated not just time, but food for the searchers. White Bird Response was also on hand with a first-aid tent.

Landis says their two-day search is in addition to searches done by the Sheriff's Office, not instead of. "Can we figure out if she was up here, for sure, because I'm not convinced of that 100%. If she was, I'd like to find something that says she was or we can just rule that out and focus our efforts on something else. We just want to find out where she is and what happened - but where she is first."

Landis won't go into detail, but says the two-day search did turn up more leads.

For those who think they've spotted Shawnta, her family says take photos so it will be easy for them to identify her, or try calling out her name to see if she responds. For those who may know something, even the smallest detail, they urge you to speak up. "We are talking about a human being her," Cayla says, "Her name is Shawnta; a mother, a daughter, a sister. She is the light of a lot of peoples' world."

"Somebody's willing to speak - call us. They don't have to be intimidated by us, just talk to us," Landis adds.

Until there are answers - Shawnta's family is just thankful for the support.

Cayla says, "We just feel so much love from the entire community. They just want to help, they just want peace for Shawnta and peace for my family. We cannot thank those people enough."

If you know anything about this case, contact the Idaho County Sheriff's Office at (208) 983-1100 or D.L. Investigating at (208) 921-1861.

The family is paying for private investigation services through a GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/help-bring-shawnta-home

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