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Star-Telegram.com

Three North Texas adults have gone missing recently

Posted Sunday, Jul. 25, 2010

By Melody McDonald

mjmcdonald@star-telegram.com

Shonda Townsend went missing early July 5 after leaving a friend's house in Mineral Wells.

Ellen King disappeared July 6, possibly while walking in her Arlington neighborhood.

Ervin Robinson vanished Memorial Day weekend in Pelican Bay.

The three don't know one another and have little in common, except for the fact that they're from North Texas and their loved ones, and the authorities, are trying to find them.

Although the disappearances don't appear to be connected, experts with state and national clearinghouses for missing persons say they provide insight into the complexities of missing person cases -- and show how common it is for adults to vanish, without a trace.

Last year, 8,927 adults were reported missing in Texas. Nationally, about 140,000 adults are reported missing each year.

Fort Worth has 260 open cases. Arlington has what it calls three "critically" missing adults. Grapevine has one.

Officials said some missing adults are mentally ill and become lost. Others leave and don't want to be found. Many meet with foul play.

In the cases of King, Townsend and Robinson, time is not on their side. Investigators in all three jurisdictions consider their disappearances "critical" and are chasing every lead.

Their families and friends are sharing heartbreak and helplessness.

"It is so bizarre," said Lisa Stevens, King's roommate. "It's like she stepped out the back door and just disappeared."

Robinson's sister, Sheila Downing, said she constantly surfs the Internet for clues to her brother's whereabouts.

"It is very stressful and frustrating not knowing," she said. "I believe something has happened to him."

Tiffany Sorrells can't stop thinking about Townsend, her friend.

"You wonder where the hell she is," she said. "Who has her?"

Shonda Townsend

On the evening of July 4, Shonda Townsend, 19, left her 2-year-old son, Haiden, with her mother at their Gibtown home in Jack County and headed to Lake Bridgeport to meet Sorrells.

Sorrells, 22, said they spent the next few hours swimming, boating and hanging out.

"We listened to music, danced, popped firecrackers," Sorrells said. "She acted normal; nothing was wrong."

Afterward, Sorrells said, Townsend followed her to her boyfriend's house in the 1700 block of U.S. 180 West in Mineral Wells, where Townsend ate a couple of hot dogs and used their computer.

A bit later, Sorrells said, Townsend told her she was going home so her mom wouldn't worry.

"I said, 'I love you, Chubbs' and she said, 'I love you, too,'" Sorrells said, explaining that they call each other "Chubbs" because of their weight gain during pregnancy.

At 12:10 a.m. July 5, Townsend sent a text message to her mother saying she was on her way home.

"I woke up around 2 a.m. and she wasn't there," said her mom, Carolyn Rittenbury. "I sent three texts and didn't get anything back."

Rittenbury said she fell back asleep and awoke at 6 a.m. to find Townsend still gone.

"That is when I began to hunt for her," she said.

The family called friends, hospitals and jails, then drove around looking for Townsend's 1997 Toyota Camry.

At about 10 that morning, not knowing she was missing, Mineral Wells police checked the license plate number on Townsend's car after seeing it parked outside a house in the 800 block of Southeast Third Avenue.

The officer "ran it because it was at a house where suspected drug activity has certainly occurred," Police Chief Mike McAllester said.

The car didn't come back as missing or stolen, but several hours later, Mineral Wells police were notified that the Camry was connected to a missing woman from Jack County.

"Of course, we went to where the vehicle was and questioned people at the home," McAllester said. "They denied any knowledge of the vehicle."

The car's stereo had been taken, a crime that police believe occurred after the car was left there.

Two days later, investigators found the keys across the street in a grassy field.

Since then, McAllester said, several agencies including the Texas Rangers have worked tirelessly. Investigators have given polygraphs, searched locations with cadaver dogs, reviewed surveillance videos, and questioned every "doper and drug dealer in Mineral Wells," he said.

"Every tip we get that has the name Shonda Townsend on it, we are running at it full force," McAllester said.

McAllester said the circumstances of Townsend's disappearance don't suggest that she willingly left.

"Mothers just don't walk away from 2-year-old children," he said. "The longer this thing goes, the more likely it is that she was met with foul play."

Ellen King

When Lisa Stevens returned home from work the evening of July 5, she assumed that her roommate was in her bedroom because her purse, keys, cigarettes and diabetes medicine were out.

But Stevens became concerned the next afternoon when she realized she still hadn't seen her roommate, Ellen King, and her personal items hadn't been touched.

"I was very surprised to open the door to her room and find that she wasn't there," Stevens said.

Stevens, who has been friends with King for 35 years, filed a missing person report with Arlington police and contacted King's two grown daughters in Austin.

One of the daughters, Melissa King, and Stevens said they can only assume that King, 55, went on her morning walk -- her tennis shoes were gone but her keys, purse and medicine were there -- and never returned.

"It seemed really, really odd," Melissa King said. "My mom has definitely never disappeared before or anything like that."

Friends and relatives said King has been looking for a job and was contemplating moving to California. She has been on the Craigslist online classifieds, inquiring about finding a ride because she didn't have a car, but wouldn't have left without telling anyone or taking her belongings, friends and relatives said.

Over the past two weeks, fliers have been distributed around King's home in the 500 block of Durham Drive and the neighborhood has been canvassed.

"There are no obvious signs of foul play, but the circumstances raise some concerns," Arlington police spokeswoman Tiara Richard said. "It's a situation where we are hoping someone has seen her and can lead us to her."

Ervin Robinson

Ervin "Shorty" Robinson isn't perfect.

He's been married several times and has served prison time for driving while intoxicated.

Still, friends and relatives said, Robinson, 57, is a loyal friend and devoted employee.

"He has worked for me for almost 10 years," said Michael Wright, co-owner of TJ Machine & Tool in Azle, where Robinson is a welder. "He called if he was going to be sick. He was very dependable."

Wright said he filed a missing person report with Azle police June 16 after Robinson failed to show up for two weeks straight.

"For him to disappear is not like him at all," Wright said. "His work was his life. He has a 401(k), a paycheck and tools here."

Azle police turned the case over to Pelican Bay, where Robinson lives. The Texas Rangers are also assisting.

Pelican Bay Police Chief Gilbert Towns said the last time anyone can verify Robinson's whereabouts is May 28, when he was seen at a local bar and at his house. He said Robinson's wife told investigators he left on Memorial Day with a woman.

Robinson's wife could not be reached for comment.

But Towns questions why Robinson left without money, clothes, personal possessions, his vehicle or motorcycle. He also didn't tell anyone goodbye, which is unusual because he has been frequenting the same bar for about five years.

"In my opinion, from what we are seeing, I don't believe he left voluntarily," Towns said. "We know that he is a very good employee, very consistent and very dependable. It would be unlikely for him to get up and leave. If he were to have left, he walked away from everything."

Desperate for answers

In all three cases, friends and relatives said, the worst part is waiting. They are desperate for answers.

"Never take for granted that the ones in your life are just always going to be there," said Robinson's son, Mike.

Melissa King said she feels like she is in a bad dream she can't wake up from.

"You jump to the worst possible conclusions," she said. "Is she alive? Is she all right? Are we ever going to find her?"

Rittenbury, Townsend's mom, said she relies on her faith -- and Towsend's son, Haiden -- to get her through each day.

"He misses her," Rittenbury said. "He says, 'Jesus, please bring Mommy home.'"

Melody McDonald,

817-390-7386

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