These were the three simple words Robert Spierer said via telephone to his wife, just shy of three months ago.
This reencounter, much more than any of the others, somehow drowned out the echoing of vending machines and boilers in the basement of the Indiana Memorial Union late in the afternoon of Aug. 16. Retelling this moment, Charlene Spierer stopped on the last word, laid her head into her palms and released silent tears and audible gasps. A stifled “I’m sorry” escaped shortly after. She did not continue.
Her husband sat rigidly next to her, also acknowledging the moment when the world stopped turning for the two parents now supported by rickety chairs and a college town. Their frustrated sentences showed quick, split-second insights into an unfathomable pain.
“It’s…a physical and emotional emptiness. It can’t be described. You feel like you should have protected your child. ‘What could we have done differently?’” he said.
Lauren Spierer is now a household name for the IU community. As the student body returns to campus for the fall, the Spierers’ missing daughter is everywhere: on the glass windows of residence hall entrances, the chipped paint of the light posts and the worried minds of parents.
But after one look at Charlene Spierer, a woman who has not left Bloomington since her daughter’s disappearance months ago, besides returning to New York for a few days to celebrate their other daughter’s birthday, it is obvious who wears Lauren’s face the most.
Capt. Joe Qualters of the Bloomington Police Department said more than 1,800 tips regarding the case have been received since the fateful night of June 3.
“The focus of the investigation has not changed, and it continues to be to find Lauren and determine the circumstances surrounding her disappearance,” he said in a statement.
It seems the same determination rings true for those closest to Lauren.
The Spierers’ days begin at 4:30 a.m., sometimes 5 a.m., and rarely ends before midnight. The days are filled with entering volunteer information into Excel spreadsheets, updating missing person posters, reading blogs and constantly brainstorming new ways to raise awareness.
Their website, findlauren.com, was recently revamped and now includes a YouTube compilation of music, photos and short video clips of the IU sophomore. When viewers see everything from baby pictures to collegiate memories, all set to lines such as “I can’t believe you’re gone…I feel you in the wind,” the smiling blonde’s disappearance becomes painfully real.
The missing information, the Spierers said, occupies the greatest reach of devastation. Not knowing is the greatest torture.
Rebecca Lefkowitz, Lauren’s best friend since 7th grade and a student at the University of Wisconsin, is flooded daily with memories of a thoughtful and loyal girl that was often mistaken for family instead of a friend.
“I remember getting our nails done and them always asking us if we were sisters, even though I have brown hair and am very tall and she has blonde hair and is very small. We always walked out of the nail salon singing the theme to the Tia and Tamara show: ‘Sister Sister, never knew how much I’d miss ya,’” Lefkowitz said. “I’d give anything to do that again with her.”
Both Lefkowitz and the Spierers expressed hope that the student body’s return would shed new light on a case they refuse to give up on. They said they are constantly reassured by the thought that someone, somewhere, knows something.
And until information gets out, Robert Spierer advised extra caution for IU students.
“Be more diligent about safety. Be with someone you can trust, not just an acquaintance,” he said. “I’m amazed…we’ve still seen girls walking home barefoot, alone, late at night.”
As for the woman that wears the same face as her daughter everywhere, Charlene Spierer takes comfort in the “amazing support” of the Bloomington community, in addition to the telltale memories supplied by Lefkowitz.
“Becca texted me this morning and told me a story about how when the girls were 16, you know, going through girl things, Lauren told her, ‘Becca, the truth will come out,’” she said. “It’s time we hear Lauren’s words.”
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