SCRANTON —It’s been 30 years since the disappearance of Michelle Jolene Lakey, then 11, on Aug. 26, 1986, but to her family, it still seems like only yesterday.
“It’s hard to imagine that 30 years have passed,” said her sister, Justina Forsythe, through tears as she fought to remain composed during a ceremony Friday morning on Courthouse Square.
Family members and local officials were gathered for the unveiling of a billboard campaign, launched by Lackawanna County Commissioner Patrick O’Malley, offering a $5,000 reward for the whereabouts of the missing girl. The billboards, set to span the entire county and some surrounding areas, will be displayed within the next two weeks.
According to reports, Lakey was last seen walking home on Washington Avenue. A Caucasian female with brown to blonde hair and brown eyes, she was around 5 feet tall and weighed about 80 pounds. Officials said she appeared younger than her age when she disappeared. She was last seen wearing a white shirt with purple trim and a tie front, dark blue sweatpants and brown sandals with straps.
Although the case is now cold, many present Friday morning expressed a belief that there is someone out there who knows something about the mystery – information that could help bring closure to the family and ease their suffering.
“Aug. 26 is the worst day for our entire family,” Forsythe said. “There are no words for what happened … There’s a hole in my life exactly the shape of my 11-year-old sister.”
It was an emotional day for all involved, perhaps none more so than Lakey’s mother, Lois Dunham.
“In our hearts and minds, she’s 11 years old,” Dunham said, addressing the small assembly. “She hasn’t turned 12 yet, because we never saw her after that time, never heard anything, got no answers.”
Dunham, who now resides in Rhode Island, said it was difficult for her just being back in Lackawanna County.
“As a parent, I cannot imagine the anguish that they have gone through,” said O’Malley. “When I go to sleep at night, I know my two children are in my house. It’s very concerning to me. I’m not here as an elected official, I’m here as Pat O’Malley, concerned parent.
“I know it’s 30 years later, but broken hearts can be broken for 30 years. It’s time to fix those broken hearts.”
Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Connie Devens, who was among the other speakers at the event, assured the audience the police will do everything they can to solve the case, following up on any leads they receive.
“These types of cases are never closed,” she said.
Officials asked anyone with information about the case to contact the State Police barracks in Dunmore at 570-963-3156.
“I truly believe that the reward could maybe shake the bushes and bring someone out,” O’Malley said.
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.