Lauren Spierer: 'She's not a poster. She's a person.'
A portrait of the young woman who most people know only as a face on a poster
By Biz Carson
Nine months ago, the then-20-year-old sophomore vanished in the middle of a summer night. Posters showing Lauren’s smiling face began to haunt Bloomington, appearing on billboards, utility poles, campus kiosks and storefront windows. She was gone,
This spring, as the case lingers with no answer in sight, the posters are coming down. The few that remain are starting to tear and fade, and the case is falling out of the headlines.
Some Bloomington residents have sent stinging letters to the Spierer family, complaining that the posters are littering their town. Students are sympathetic, but in quiet conversation, some admit they’ve heard enough and are ready to move on.
Lauren’s parents and friends now describe her in both the past and present tense. Without some resolution, they aren’t sure how to speak of her.
Even as she fades from the public’s eyes for a second time, most people still have no concept of Lauren beyond the face on the poster. They don’t know the young woman who loved miniature Buddhas and Hello Kitty. The one who played lacrosse until the day she discovered she had a heart condition. Who even on the night she went missing, wore a fragile gold bracelet, a gift from her father, adorned with an evil eye for protection.
The story of Lauren’s life as we know it is stuck at 4:30 a.m. June 3, 2011.
She was supposed to go back home to Scarsdale, N.Y., to intern with Anthropologie later in the summer. She would have been alongside her friends as she started her junior year at IU.
She wanted to study abroad with her best friend this spring. They were thinking about Italy, but hadn’t decided yet. She would have celebrated her 21st birthday Jan. 17.
Instead, her name has become synonymous with her disappearance, her face synonymous with the unknown.
A grainy still, taken by security cameras, shows her frozen in time, forever leaving her fifth-floor apartment for a night out. Her white top is flowing, her black leggings tight. Her hair is partially pulled back. She is smiling.
She left Smallwood Plaza to hang out with people she had met earlier in the week at the Indianapolis 500.
At 1:46 a.m., Lauren showed a fake I.D. to the bouncer at Kilroy’s Sports Bar and joined her friends inside. She took off her shoes to walk in the sand, and by the time she left the bar at 2:27 a.m., she’d lost her cell phone.
Video footage shows Lauren entering the lobby of Smallwood with Corey Rossman, a friend of one of her roommates. Rossman got into a fight with a young man, who the police have not identified publicly, in the lobby of the apartment complex. Rossman has told police he can’t remember anything that happened after that point.
Lauren and Rossman left Smallwood. Security cameras show the two walking back to his apartment at 11th and Morton streets. Her keys and wallet were lost somewhere along the way.
Rossman’s roommate told police he put him to bed while Lauren went down the hall to her friend Jay Rosenbaum’s apartment.
Rosenbaum watched her leave at 4:30 a.m., walk to the corner of 11th Street and College Avenue and turn right. But Lauren never made it back to Smallwood, three blocks away.
The police conducted searches and daily press conferences. Family, friends and complete strangers combed the buildings, fields and forests around Bloomington. Nothing.
Her parents packed Lauren’s life at IU into 19 boxes, which are now stacked in the Spierers’ home.
Lauren would not have liked all the attention.
People heard that she went out drinking, so she was labeled a partier. People heard that she was Jewish and from New York, so she was labeled as rich. People saw she was blonde, so she was stereotyped as a ditz who lost her cell phone and keys.
But the people slapping labels on Lauren didn’t know her beyond the newspaper articles or her face on the poster. Those who knew her look at her poster and see the Lauren they were friends with.
The Lauren they knew loved old people, especially when she saw them in love. She liked to imitate accents, everything from a rabbi’s accent to a Brit’s.
Her petite size at 4-feet-11-inches and 90 pounds didn’t reflect her love for food. She loved Domino’s pizza with extra ranch sauce, Baked! cookies and Butch’s Grillacatessen & Eatzeria.
She was notoriously messy and did everything at the last minute. Her room was always covered in clothes because she often changed her mind about what she wanted to wear.
As a child, she always wanted a dog, but was never allowed to get one. Her first pets were sea monkeys, then a fish named Dori.
Lauren’s baby pictures show her smiling on the beach, but always in someone’s arms or sitting on a towel. Lauren used to hate the sand, her parents said.
She didn’t like heat or sweating, but her constant energy transferred well into athletics. Her father, Robert, called her a “tiger” as a soccer sweeper. But her sport of choice was lacrosse. She was a fast runner and was invited to play varsity at a young age, her mother Charlene said in a recent interview.
“She was a teeny little thing,” Charlene said. “But she was tough as nails.”
In ninth grade, Lauren was diagnosed with long QT syndrome, a heart condition that can cause fainting and potentially fatal heart arrhythmias.
The next day, she dropped lacrosse.
“That was it. Done,” Robert said. “She was really crushed.”
Her life changed at that point, Charlene said. Lauren had always been fashion- and art-oriented, so she enrolled in an Advanced Placement art class at her high school.
On Saturdays during her senior year, she would take a train to the city to take classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“She had to kind of reinvent herself because she went from sort of being a jock to being really interested in fashion,” Charlene said. “She would go to Goodwill and buy a skirt for 50 cents and wear it to a black-tie affair. She just then took it to the next step and decided to make a career out of it.”
Lauren and her childhood friend Becca Lefkowitz always loved to get manicures and go shopping. Lauren knew every color of OPI and essie nail polish. She preferred to paint her nails dark colors: black, a dark purple or her favorite color, blue. Once in a while, she would paint them pink, Lefkowitz said, but Lauren always regretted it and took it off by the next day.
At one of their favorite Italian restaurants, Gennaro’s Pizza & Pasta, they would eat the same four things: salad, garlic knots, an order of penne vodka pasta and a slice of pizza to share.
After graduating high school, Lefkowitz went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison while Lauren went to IU, seven hours away. Despite the distance, the two constantly talked throughout every day. Lefkowitz would Skype while Lauren and her boyfriend were studying in the library. They kept it on mute but could look up at each other and wave.
When Lefkowitz was upset about a bad break-up in Wisconsin, Lauren sent her a pack of Hello Kitty tissues with a note that said, “No crying over boys, only crying over missing me.”
Lauren and her boyfriend drove to Madison to surprise Lefkowitz for Halloween their freshman year. It had been their favorite holiday since middle school, when they dressed up as construction workers together. The plan for this past Halloween was to be Thing One and Thing Two from Dr. Seuss.
Lauren started going to Camp Towanda in Pennsylvania when she was age 8 and worked her way up to being a “camper captain” and then a camp counselor in 2009.
“She was very ‘ra-ra’ about the camp spirit,” Robert said. “I could see her going ‘woo’ with her arms up in the air.”
“She used to say, ‘I live nine months for three,’” Charlene added.
Blair Wallach met Lauren when they were 9 years old and shared a bunk together. When they realized they were both coming to IU, they decided to room together in McNutt Residence Center.
They went shopping at Bed Bath & Beyond together with their moms and bought matching bedspreads and blankets.
“It was all matchy-matchy,” Wallach said. “And then everything else was hippies and Hello Kitty.”
Lauren put a sign that said “Hippies use backdoor: no exceptions” above her bed.
She decorated the room with posters of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Her dad takes the credit for her music taste.
“It was always best when I had her trapped in the car because I could control it and she couldn’t get out, so I’d play a lot of the groups from ’60s,” Robert said. “I remember her listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash one night and told her to listen to the harmony. And when the song ended, she just said it was unbelievable to listen to the harmony.”
Her eclectic music tastes reflected her clothing style, too.
Her clothes were funky, vintage and colorful. Her dad would laugh when he saw her wearing boots with fringe like Davy Crockett.
Wallach said that, as apparel merchandising majors, they both love fashion.
When they were bored, they’d grab a coffee or go shopping in Urban Outfitters, where Lauren would just grab stuff off the rack without trying it on.
She decorated her bedroom in Smallwood with a large Urban Outfitters tapestry of Ganesha, the Hindu deity who symbolizes wisdom and success. She loved Buddha sculptures and had them throughout her room. It was girly but edgy, Wallach said. Lauren scattered small bowls of chocolates and Mini M&M’s throughout the apartment.
Wallach and Lauren’s favorite show was “Sex and the City.” They both owned all of the seasons and would always quote their favorite episode “The Good Fight” from season four. She also stole her dad’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” DVDs to take back to Bloomington after he introduced the show to her.
In pictures, Lauren liked to make a kissy face and a peace sign. “Spierer face,” Wallach called it.
Since Lauren stepped out into that night in June, summer became fall, which turned into winter, and it’s soon to be spring. She missed her 21st birthday and the revival of IU basketball. She missed Hanukkah and her older sister Rebecca’s engagement.
The daily press conferences have been downgraded to the occasional press release addressing rumors.
In February, IU removed the “Find Lauren” button from the front page of its website. According to the University’s press release, it’s scheduled to rotate on the front page during the first week of every month.
But her parents haven’t stopped searching, and they vow that they never will. They still come to Bloomington and search in secret on their own.
People who never knew her create events to hang up new posters or commemorate the months since her disappearance. Some light candles every night in prayer to find her or make bracelets to send to the family. One woman manages a Twitter account with 28,000 followers to provide updates with news about Lauren.
Last week, the family increased the reward money from $100,000 to $250,000 for any information that leads to their daughter being found.
“This is our child,” Charlene said. “We are not just going to go home and wait. We have to be proactive. We adore her. She is our life, with Rebecca, and we are not going to accept this.”
They talk about what’s missing, and they talk about missing Lauren.
Charlene said she sometimes pictures Lauren sitting in their living room, drinking coffee in her favorite red hoodie. Her daughter, who used to hate sand, who had a gift for fashion, who found happiness in making other people smile.
“As we look at Lauren’s posters, to us, that’s an abstract,” Charlene said. “It’s not who she is. She’s not a poster. She’s a person.”
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