A reward now is being offered for information in the case of missing Richland County teen Gabrielle Swainson.
Community members have donated $6,000 for information leading investigators to Swainson or to the arrest of anyone involved in her disappearance from her home a week ago today.
The house on Tamara Way was quiet Friday, but at times this week it has been a flurry of activity as family, friends, police and the media have passed through its doors – all reminders that 15-year-old Gabrielle, missing since Saturday, is not where she should be.
“I would never wish this on any family,” said Gabrielle’s aunt, Tara Swainson. “You don’t know how to cope.”
Swainson and her husband, Mario, have been staying with Elvia Swainson, who is Mario’s sister and Gabrielle’s mother, since Monday when they left their Atlanta home to be by her side.
All three have been trying to do what they can to stay busy, Swainson said, including passing out fliers and appealing to the public for any information on where Gabrielle might be.
Friday, Tara Swainson was waiting for the family to return home from their first meeting with the FBI and had stayed behind at the family’s northeast Richland County residence to make sure someone was at the home.
“No one knows what to do, what to think, what to make of all of this,” she said as she sat at the family’s kitchen table, wringing her hands.
She said the family was “encouraged” that agents and analysts with the FBI as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have joined in the search for her niece.
“But what would be the most encouraging thing is to have Gabbiee back home and safe and secure,” she said.
The family was notified by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department on Thursday that the FBI would be brought in to assist in the search. Police increasingly think the vanished teen was abducted.
By Friday, the department had issued a new flier in an attempt to coordinate various community efforts that had produced a variety of flier.
“We’re just trying to get it organized instead of doing so many different things or different fliers,” said Sherrif Leon Lott. “Everyone has been very helpful, and we appreciate that. But we’re just trying to coordinate everything now.”
Of the $6,000 in reward money offered, $2,500 is from an anonymous donor and $2,500 was donated by Lott personally. Another $1,000 comes from CrimeStoppers.
That amount could increase as other donations come in, the sheriff’s department said.
While Tara Swainson waited she talked of her niece – recalling happier times when the quiet but vivacious teen who loves music and dance would visit her and her husband in Atlanta.
Swainson, who has two adult sons, always enjoyed their time together. The two spent an afternoon together last September when Gabrielle and her mother came to Atlanta. The two went to a movie and picked up some nail polish on the way back.
“It was just something to do,” she said. “I have two boys, so I never had anyone to paint nails with.”
At other times Swainful was tearful, especially when her thoughts turned to Gabrielle’s mother and what she has been through this week.
“The two of them have always had each other,” she said. “They’re really, really close. Her whole life is Gabbiee.”
Meanwhile, reminders that all is not well are everywhere in the family home.
Gabrielle’s alarm clock continues to go off at the same time every morning – 5:25 a.m. – as it first did when her mother entered her room last Saturday and found her bed empty.
Having not been able to figure out how to turn it off completely, Swainson, who has been staying in the room across the hall, turns it off every morning.
She wonders why her niece would have set it in the first place, thinking maybe the rising sophomore was getting ready little by little for when school started back at Ridge View High School on Thursday – something she was looking forward to.
The family she says, and especially Gabrielle’s mother, are beside themselves as they work with law enforcement, hoping for Gabbiee’s return.
“We have to find her,” she said. “We need her back.”