FBI agents and analysts as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have joined the intensified search for missing 15-year-old Gabrielle Swainson in northeast Richland County.
The mother of Gabbiee, who went missing early Saturday morning, said shes trying not to think the worst.
But her mind does run through what might have happened when her daughter was alone in their home.
Early Saturday morning before dawn, Elvia Swainson said, she left her house in the North Crossing neighborhood near the Village at Sandhill mall for a few hours to catch up on some backed-up work at her office. She is a workers compensation claims adjuster, and its difficult to do all the interviews and write up reports in an eight-hour day, she said.
Just before she left her house, about 3:45 a.m., she went to her daughters second-story bedroom and placed the girls iPhone in her hand, Swainson said.
She was sleeping. I shook her and said, Gabbiee, Gabbiee, wake up, Im about to run out and do some work, and Ill be back. The phone was so Gabrielle could call if she needed to.
My speculation is maybe somebody saw me leave and came to the door right after I left and started ringing the doorbell or something. She may have come down with her cell phone in her hand and opened the door, thinking it was me, Swainson said.
Swainson doesnt like to dwell on that scenario. We are still keeping our hope up that we will find her soon. Its hard, especially when you dont have a clue as to what happened.
It rips me apart.
When she vanished, Gabrielle was apparently dressed only in pajamas and was clutching her iPhone. All her clothes, her purse and wallet with identification was still in the house. Police wont comment on any locater signals they may have received from her GPS-equipped cell phone.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has sent a consultant. By federal law, the Center can get certain information from various databases more quickly than local law enforcement, Lott said.
That group and the FBI bring capabilities we dont have, Lott said.
Police increasingly think the vanished teen was abducted.
Coming of age
Gabrielle, who turned 15 in June, was supposed to have started her sophomore year Thursday at Ridge View High School a year in which she would be a member of the junior varsity cheerleading squad and participate in the schools magnet program.
The evening before the girls disappearance had been a wonderful time, her mother said.
On Friday, Elvia Swainson took Gabrielle to her weekly guitar lesson, then to a store to get her nails done. Then, Swainson drove Gabrielle to the Village at Sandhill mall, where Gabrielle met a young man shed known since the eighth grade at Dent Middle School. It was a coming-of-age moment, since Swainson had not been allowing Gabrielle to date.
I said, I will allow you to hang out with him, and meet me in front of Belks. So I came back within the hour, they were both sitting in front of Belks with their little doggie bags of going to the Asian Bowl to eat. I took her friend home and then we came home, Swainson said.
That night, Gabrielle practiced guitar, then came to give her mother her cell phone, as she did every night, since her mother didnt allow her to text friends after 8:30 or so at night. They watched a movie together, and then the teen went to sleep. Shortly after 3 a.m., Swainson decided to go into her office.
I said, You know, Ill just go while shes sleeping. Its 10 minutes away down the road, Swainson said.
That way, she thought, she could spend time with her daughter over the weekend rather than going into the office on Saturday or Sunday, during the day.
Moments of panic
Swainson left the house at 3:45 a.m. and was back between 7:15 and 7:30 a.m., she said.
When she entered the door, she heard her daughters alarm clock.
Im like, Gabbiee, Gabbiee, you hear that alarm going off?
When her daughter didnt answer, she ran upstairs, didnt see Gabrielle, panicked, then ran from room to room, yelling her name. She called her daughters phone and it rang and rang before going to voice mail. She ran outside, talked to neighbors and then called neighbors.
The clock, she calculated later, had been set to go off at 5:25 a.m. So whatever happened to Gabrielle happened between 3:45 a.m. and 5:25 a.m.
Like many parents, Swainson who is divorced and a single mom devotes much of her life to her daughter.
Ive poured everything into her, so that at a certain point, she will know exactly what she is supposed to do, Swainson said.
At a young age, I had her involved in dancing, cheerleading, tumbling she loved it. And at the age of 5, she started dancing with different local companies, and she danced at our church, Right Direction Church International on St. Andrews Road, Swainson said. For several years, Gabrielle has been a serious guitar student a favorite musician is pop singer Katy Perry and even has two guitars, her mother said.
Through Dent Middle School, Gabrielles favorite subject was science. But in ninth grade at Ridge View, she changed course. She liked dance and drama and all that stuff shes an art person.
She is very much a girly-girl, her mother said. When she dresses, she coordinates to the nine every day. Shes into her hair, asking me if she could wear make up. I said, No, not yet. Then I allowed her to wear eye shadow, and she was having fun with that.
Lott declined Thursday to answer when asked if his detectives had a suspect.
But the sheriff did say that no family member is a suspect.
Gabrielles mother has hired a private investigator, Chandra Cleveland-Jennings, a 20-year veteran of the Richland County Sheriffs Department. Cleveland-Jennings coordinates with the sheriffs department, helps Swainson pursue leads and works with citizens groups. Theyve handed out more than 7,000 missing person leaflets in the northeast Richland County and Elgin areas.
Gabrielles father, Alvin Thompson, a long-distance truck driver, came down from his home in Virginia on Monday to do what he could.
You never think this could happen to your family, he said. It always happens to somebody else.
Swainson blinked back tears. I try not to think negative at all. I need her to come home.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.