A year ago, Kierra Coles, a young, pregnant U.S. postal worker, disappeared from her Chicago neighborhood.
Since then there have been desperate pleas for help, but the case remains unsolved, with more questions than answers.
Chicago police, who initially said foul play was suspected, have provided few details and family members and activists hope that the case will not be forgotten, which has happened in numerous cases of people of color.
“If you know something, say something,” Coles’ heartbroken mother, Karen Phillips, told ABC News. “Come forward and say something to end this nightmare.”
‘Any and all leads’
Coles’ case has been a mystery since the beginning. She was last seen on surveillance video wearing her postal worker uniform and leaving her South Side apartment. Her car was found in front of her apartment with her purse, phone and a packed lunch still inside, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
Chicago police initially said last October that they suspected possible foul play, in part because she had “fallen off the grid.”
When asked Friday if foul play is still suspected and if investigators have any leads, Chicago police officer Anthony Spicuzza would only say that the case remains open.
“This missing person case remains an open and active investigation,” he wrote in an email. “If anyone has any information regarding this case they should contact the detectives.”
The Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement branch of the U.S. Postal Service, is also conducting an investigation and looking “at any and all leads,” Postal Inspection Service representative Julie Kenney told ABC News this week.
Coles started working as a part-time city carrier assistant in April 2017, Kenney said. She didn’t have a regular route and filled in as needed.
Coles, who was off duty when she disappeared, had called and asked for “leave” for Oct. 3, according to Kenney. But she didn’t say when the call was made and declined to provide the reason Coles gave, citing employee confidentiality.
“We can’t say” if there was foul play, Kenney said. “We don’t know at this point.”
The Postal Inspection Service is offering a $25,000 reward in the case.
‘Say something to end this nightmare’
Coles and her mother, Phillips, spoke every day. During their last phone call on Oct. 1, 2018, “everything seemed fine,” her distraught mom said.
“She didn’t seem like she was upset or nothing,” Phillips told ABC News on Tuesday. “She was just asking what’s the best milk to get.”
“She was already excited about becoming a mother,” Phillips said. “That’s all my child ever wanted, to be a mom and accomplish all the things she set to accomplish — to have a nice paying job which she had, to get a new car which she bought, to move into her own apartment which she did, and to become a mother which she was about to.”
A year in with no answers is taking its toll on the worried mother and she’s pleading with anyone with information to come forward.
“Not a day goes past I don’t think about my child and what she could be going through, what may have happened to her,” Phillips said. “I feel she is alive — being held where, I wouldn’t know.”
Coles’ father, Joseph Coles, told reporters in July, “I just want my baby to come home, along with my grandbaby that I never got to meet.”
He told reporters he believed his daughter was alive and might be held captive in a vacant home.
“Somebody knows something,” he said. “If you’ve got any information, please come forward… I will keep pushing this information until she is brought home safely to me.”
Joseph Coles could not be reached by ABC News, but he wrote on Facebook last week: “I’m still looking for answers I want to know.”
‘The story could die’
More than 600,000 Americans went missing in 2018, according to FBI data, and a third of those were black, despite making up only 13% of the total U.S. population. By comparison whites made up nearly 60 percent of missing persons and more than 76 percent of the population, according to FBI and Census data.
One of the concerns among activists and family members is the seeming lack of attention paid to missing black people. Only about one-fifth of these cases receive media coverage, according to an analysis published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
“Blacks definitively face dual types of disparity, as they are both less likely to appear in the news at all and also tend to receive less coverage even when they do appear,” said the study, which examined the phenomenon “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”
Relatives of missing people of color often feel like they’re “stereotyped as being involved in some type of criminal activity, or that’s the life that’s lived in that particular community or neighborhood, so their lives are not valued,” said Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc.”
“Ms. Cole’s disappearance has received a number of media stories, but we have to keep this information in the news. I feel so horrible for her family,” Wilson told ABC News. “It’s heartbreaking. What happened to this beautiful young lady?”
Wilson says police may have information they don’t want to release as to not jeopardize the investigation.
“And I hope that’s the case, why they’re not providing information,” Wilson said. “I think for the family’s sake and the community’s sake just providing updates is important.”
And Wilson notes that it’s not just one person missing now — it’s two people: Kierra Coles, whose 27th birthday was last week, and her child, who was due in April.
Now that it’s one year into the investigation, “unfortunately the story could die” in the media, Wilson says. But for the families, the unknown tends to be hardest part, she said.
“Her family and the community and we all have to continue to fight until we have closure as to what happened to Kierra and her baby,” Wilson said. “We ask families to please hold onto hope because there have been stories where individuals have been reported missing and they came back home and were found many many years later. And we’re holding onto hope that that’ll be the case for Kierra and her baby.”
Kierra Coles’ union, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), has offered a $2,500 reward for information, according to Mack Julion, the Chicago-area president of the NALC.
Reward money has also been contributed by a Chicago activist and a private company, he said.
“Her union has not given up hope,” Julion told ABC News. “She’s still considered a member in good standing and we’ll continue to support the family and do anything to get some information.”
Employees at the Charles Hayes post office in Chicago, where Kierra Coles worked, plan to hold a balloon release Wednesday morning, Kenney said. They’re also going to pass out missing persons flyers Wednesday evening.