Q: Outside the Schnucks store on Carlyle Avenue is a bench sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. It shows a 13-year-old Bianca Piper, who has been missing for more than 10 years. There has never been an update and simple arithmetic tells you this “child,” if still alive, would be 26 today. Is she still missing? Why haven’t they either taken it down or updated the photo with a computer enhancement?
Cathy Stoltz, of Belleville
A: Try, if you can, to put yourself in the shoes of Shannon Tanner.
On March 10, 2005, the Foley, Mo., woman and her daughter Bianca Noel Piper began arguing over the teen’s refusal to do the dinner dishes. The exchanges became so heated that Tanner decided to follow a mental health therapist’s recommendation: Allow Bianca, who was taking several medications for her bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, to walk off her anger.
So even though it was snowing that night, Tanner drove her daughter to a bridge down the street from their home, let her out of the car and returned home. Dressed in blue jeans, tennis shoes and an Adidas hoodie, Bianca has never been seen since. Search after search failed to uncover any clues to what might have happened to her. Hundreds of leads have been followed, all leading to dead ends. At least once, police called Bianca’s family to meet a girl they thought might be Bianca. It wasn’t.
Now, play the role of Tanner. For more than a decade you’ve likely been beating yourself up over the decision you made that night. The public expects you would do anything to get your daughter back.
But imagine this: You post a missing-persons alert with an age-enhanced image updated, say, every two or three years. As a mother, you’re seeing your daughter grow up virtually on telephone poles and supermarket bulletin boards without the ability to attend her high school graduation, plan a wedding, etc.
For Tanner, it was too difficult. She had one of those computerized pictures made after five years. On the 10th anniversary of Bianca’s disappearance, it was flashed on electronic billboards around the region. But Tanner said she simply couldn’t have another done. It was too gut-wrenching.
“I can’t even explain what kind of a feeling it is, but when you see your daughter grow up and change, it’s something you want to see in person,” she told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch three years ago. “The last one that we had made, it took me two or three weeks to open the poster. I had to really get up the courage to do it.”
So, although police have said they believe Bianca met with foul play somewhere, somehow, her mother hopes just keeping her name in the public eye will lead to closure one way or the other as she observes the 13th anniversary of that tragic night next week. For now, though, Bianca will forever be the 18-year-old that you see in the age-enhanced photo you can find on the Internet.