Johanna Zmuida just wants to know what happened to her daughter.
The Orwigsburg woman has wanted those answers for two years, and she still has nothing.
Her daughter, Jennifer Cahill Shadle, was last seen around May 15, 2014, in the Wal-Mart shopping center on North Atherton Street. There is video surveillance of her walking from Wal-Mart to the Dollar General store. There were sightings at Don Patron Mexican restaurant and the now-closed Simply Tan nearby.
And then, nothing.
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“From the beginning, I was panicky,” Zmuida said
From the beginning, I was panicky.
Zmuida reported the disappearance within days, after she realized that Cahill Shadle, who had only recently come back to Centre County in the midst of a divorce, had not been in touch with her own children.
There has been little information since then, leading to Zmuida’s increased frustration and painful lack of hope.
“I am so certain my daughter has been murdered,” Zmuida said.
Much of that exasperation is directed toward law enforcement. Cahill Shadle’s disappearance is being handled by Ferguson Township police, and Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller’s office has been involved since at least August 2014, when the DA appeared at a joint press conference with Chief Diane Conrad.
“We totally sympathize with the family and their great loss and frustration. If it were my relative or sister that was missing, I would not be satisfied unless the police department had an entire team working on the case round the clock and they found my missing relative. I wish we did have that amount of resources to devote to every case, not just this one,” Parks Miller said.
Conrad also insists that her department has done all it can.
Anyone with information on Jennifer Cahill Shadle’s disappearance should contact Ferguson Township police at 814-237-1172 or submit an anonymous tip through the department’s website at www.twp.ferguson.pa.us.
“We started looking for her daughter immediately upon receiving the report. We began by interviewing local friends and family. The investigation is still active and we are hoping someone will come forward with information as to where she is now or where she may have gone after that evening in the shopping center,” Conrad said.
In a letter from Conrad to the family, she said more than 70 people have been interviewed and hundreds of hours have been spent investigating Cahill Shadle’s case.
But that doesn’t change the fact that, after lots of media coverage, a blizzard of posters, a private investigator and even the involvement of Freeform cable television show “Monica the Medium,” 24 months have gone by with no significant information.
Zmuida is not happy about it.
“I don’t want a fluff story,” she said. “I want to know where my daughter is. Frustrated? You’re damn right I am.”
She has sent letters to every possible official. She said only state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, responded, but he was still unable to help.
Zmuida said she has been told that the investigating grand jury Parks Miller requested could be working on the disappearance, but she has no information about that, either.
“We also do have a grand jury but cannot comment on whether this case is part of that process,” the DA said.
We also do have a grand jury but cannot comment on whether this case is part of that process.
Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller
Leaks of investigating grand jury information have been big news across Pennsylvania and in Centre County as Attorney General Kathleen Kane was charged for alleged release of confidential information, and her case was brought into Jerry Sandusky’s Post-Conviction Relief Act petition.
But it’s hard for bigger ideas like that to matter when you don’t know where your daughter is or what has happened to her.
Zmuida’s family, unfortunately, is not alone. In 2014, another Centre County woman was being sought as state police embarked on a search for Susan Bachman, who jumped from her parents’ moving car on July 4 on Interstate 80 en route to Clarion. Her family got closure in April 2015 when her remains were found.
Several other area families have not been so lucky. Cindy Song disappeared in 2001 after a Halloween party, also in Ferguson Township. Brenda Condon has been missing from Spring Township since February 1991. Probably the most famous missing person case in the area is the vanishing of district attorney Ray Gricar in 2005, a case that attracted nationwide attention.
“State College’s violent crime rate and murders are far below the national average from even the FBI data, yet you have ... missing women and one missing district attorney,” said Zmuida’s niece, Amy Mekelburg, in a letter to Conrad. “Perhaps you should reconsider your methodology and be more open to the help of deeper resourced organizations more experienced in such matters.”
In 2014, Bellefonte turned Gricar’s case over to state police.
Zmuida still just wants answers and action.
“I’m past the point of anything else,” she said. “I’m just so angry.”