Nearly 20 years later, in Northport Alabama a family still has no answers about what happened to Heaven Lashae Ross, 11, last seen walking to her bus stop.
Shae left her house around 6:55 a.m on the morning of Aug. 19, 2003 . Her stepfather Kevin Thompson heard a thunder clap and decided to drive the girls to school and left at 7:01. Shae somehow disappeared during that narrow window.
Police responded to the missing child report Thompson filed that morning became more serious when Shae didn’t show up once school hours had passed.
An AMBER alert was never issued because police had no evidence that Shae was in danger.
A team of law enforcement agents, including some from every agency in the county and the FBI, descended on the trailer park and went door-to-door. They reviewed video from a nearby Steve’s Grill & Billiards, which yielded no clues. The response from the community was swift and massive.
At least three neighbors reported seeing Shae that morning. A young man walking to the bus stop and a neighbor working at a computer near a window told police they saw her.
A woman who lived a few trailers down saw her, and gave police an accurate description of her clothing — the pink Bratz shirt and leggings that would be found among her remains under an abandoned house three years later.
This neighbor was likely the last person to lay eyes on Ross.
Ross’ remains were discovered underneath a house in the Holt community more than three years later. She was identified by her pink Bratz t-shirt.
Shae’s remains were found by a man looking for cans at the abandoned house in Holt. The run-down, secluded house off Crescent Ridge Road in Holt was hard to find if you didn’t know where you were going, and was known as a spot where people used drugs and did other illegal activities. So nothing really came of this, no real evidence was found to use or track down the killer. The family was baffled that anyone would want to hurt her.
The child’s disappearance led to a county-wide panic. Without a named suspect, students no longer walked alone to the bus stop. Friends and teachers posted fliers everywhere. Hoping to bring some justice to this case. Many businesses chipped in as they could such as Winn-Dixie donated yellow ribbons that teams of searchers pinned to their shirts. Buddy’s Food Mart immediate offered a $5,000 reward. Olive Garden sent food, Kmart sent snacks and Kinko’s, Office Max and Kwik Copy ran off 33,000 missing fliers with ink jets donated by Home Depot.
Law enforcement agents saturated the neighborhood and worked at a command center set up at Northport police headquarters. Members of local, Birmingham and national media camped out with family and friends under tents at the trailer park, waiting for any kind of update. Search teams from out-of-state showed up, but no leads ever surfaced.
Thousands of tips were called in, many of them outlandish. A truck driver saw a wolf on U.S. Highway 82 and suggested that Shae had been attacked. A psychic said that a childless woman had taken Shae because of her mild-mannered disposition. One man said that he could find Shae by using a device that would track her aura. None of these got them any closer to finding out who was responsible for this.
The relationship between the family and volunteers disintegrated as the case dragged on without a resolution. Lowery accused the head of a volunteer group of stealing $500 donated by a church and police were called to the volunteer center to resolve a shouting match that erupted between family members and volunteers. Many volunteers withdrew their support after a September 2003 fire in Shae’s room that destroyed most of her belongings. The fire was ruled suspicious. Some members of law enforcement, volunteers and the public suspected that Shae’s parents knew more than they let on. Lowery said at the time that the scrutiny of her family was likely because she and Thompson were an interracial couple, and because they lived in a trailer park.
The victim’s mother, Beth Thompson, said each passing year without answers becomes more painful than the last. Thompson was confident the case will be solved.
“I don’t have any justice. I don’t have answers. I have a million questions, but I don’t have any answers,” Thompson said.
Ross would have been 26 years old. Her mother is convinced someone knows what happened to her daughter and is begging them to bring closure.
“You took something from me. I can never forget about it, I can’t let it go,” Thompson said, “It’s a nightmare I walk through every single day of the year.”
Investigators never revealed how they believe Ross was killed. So we know very little about it other than it seems to be forgotten. If you have any information about Heavens disappearance or death please contact your local police department.