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8-year-old Shy'Kemmia Pate disappeared in 1998. Her family still hopes for answers


And now an unsolved mystery - Shy'Kemmia Pate was just 8 years old when she went missing from her home in Georgia on September 4, 1998. She has never been seen or heard from again. As NPR's Jonathan Franklin reports, her family is still hoping for answers regarding her disappearance more than 25 years later.

JONATHAN FRANKLIN, BYLINE: It's been over two decades since Veronica Pate last saw her daughter Shy'Kemmia Pate, but she says she hasn't given up hope on finding her.

VERONICA PATE: She's been missing 25 years, but I still feel that she's alive out there.

FRANKLIN: On the day she disappeared, Shy Shy, as her friends and family called her, was playing outside at the front porch of her family's home in Unadilla, Ga., a town roughly 45 miles outside of Macon. Her older sister left to fill her car with gas before the family went to a local high school football game later that night, but when her sister returned home, she realized that Shy Shy was gone. At first, the family believed Shy Shy had gone ahead to the football game with a friend. But as night started to fall, Veronica says, the family's panic began to set in.

PATE: We got kind of scared because that was something that we had never been used to.

FRANKLIN: In the months after Shy Shy vanished, police and family members went from door to door across Unadilla, looking for any signs of her. Law enforcement from neighboring counties assisted with the initial search, while residents in the neighborhood where Shy Shy grew up opened their doors and helped the family try and locate her. But sadly, nothing ever came of it. Shy'Kemmia would have turned 34 on October 29. And despite all the years that have passed, efforts to locate her are long from over.

RANDY LAMBERTH: Somebody out there knows something.

FRANKLIN: That's Randy Lamberth, an investigator with the Dooly County Sheriff's Office who has served as the lead investigator on this case since the very beginning. He tells me that his office, along with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, continues to comb through old and new leads, hoping to make a break in the case. He says he hopes Shy Shy will return home to her family safely.

LAMBERTH: We have followed up on those, contacted these agencies to see what they've got.

FRANKLIN: Randy says that over the years, his office continues to receive several leads from across the state and even places as far away as Detroit. But so far, the leads have come up with no promising results.

LAMBERTH: I kindly feel it may be one person who was involved in this.

FRANKLIN: In 2022, more than 546,000 people were reported missing in the United States. That's according to data from the National Crime Information Center. And while Black women and girls make up 7% of the U.S. population, they unfortunately make up roughly 20% of all missing person cases.

NATALIE WILSON: Until you have concrete information as to what happened to the missing individual, we cannot give up hope in finding them.

FRANKLIN: That's Natalie Wilson, the co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing awareness to missing people of color. She says that time is critical in missing person cases, as the first 24 to 48 hours are the most important in the search. The longer one waits to file the initial police report, the more information and the search, such as forensics, can be lost. In Shy Shy's case, though, her friends and family quickly contacted authorities to begin the search for her that same day. And still, years later, investigators and national agencies continue to follow dozens of leads in the case, hoping that somebody will come forward with what happened to Shy Shy 25 years ago.

WILSON: Shy Shy's family deserve answers as to what happened to her. She disappeared over two decades ago. But we continue to hold on to hope that they will get the answer that they deserve, and we hope that it's to bring her home safely.

FRANKLIN: After all these years, Veronica still hopes to reunite with her daughter, doing whatever it takes to bring her home.

PATE: Even if she's fine and she don't want to come back here, I just want that stamp saying she's located, and I never gave up looking for her. And no matter how long it take, I'm not going to stop searching for my daughter.

FRANKLIN: Jonathan Franklin, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.