COLUMBIA, S.C. — The leader of a North Carolina group that searches for missing people said she is spending too much time in Horry County these days.
Monica Caison and workers and volunteers for her CUE Center for Missing Persons have spent weeks looking for 20-year-old Heather Elvis, who disappeared days before Christmas. Elvis is just one of nearly a half-dozen young people who vanished with barely a trace around Myrtle Beach in the past few years.
"Every time we turn around, there is another case," said Caison, who isn't convinced there is anything unusual going on in the area, but is keeping her mind open to the possibility.
Elvis was last heard from around 3 a.m. on Dec. 17, when she called a family member to talk about how a date she was on had gone well, her family said. She was reported missing the next day when her car was found at a boat ramp about 8 miles from her home, Horry County Police Lt. Robert Kegler said.
There has been no trace of the 20-year-old woman since then.
"There are no concrete leads as to where she is right now or if there are any suspects involved in her disappearance," Kegler said.
Caison has worked with police, arranging massive searches each weekend since then, looking in the water around the boat ramp and the surrounding woods.
Elvis' family has set up a Facebook page and is aggressively asking reporters across the country to help them. Elvis' father, Terry, has posted heart-wrenching messages on the page, including a poem on New Year's Eve and a message about how he has nightmares when he sleeps after his daughter did not come home Christmas.
"My family is hurting, our hearts are heavy," Elvis' father wrote. "Christmas has been filled with pain and Heather is still not home.
Caison's group also searched for two other missing women over the past month who were found safe.
The CUE Center keeps a list of missing people on its website. Of the 21 people listed, five are from Horry County, with two more from neighboring Georgetown County.
The missing people include Brittanee Drexel, who was 17 when she disappeared during a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach in 2009. Kareem Ward hasn't been seen since his car was pulled from the Little Pee Dee River in June 2007. And Zachary Malinowski, a 19-year-old who went out for food in Aynor after hanging out with friends and hasn't been seen since. His car was found burned.
CUE is run through donations and volunteers. Caison founded the group in 1994 after several people she knew disappeared and little was done to find them. She has shepherded the group into a wide-ranging effort that coordinates searches, canvases neighborhoods, prints flyers, buys billboards and coordinates with the media.
Caison will help search for anyone, no matter what age. She felt that was important, especially when CUE was founded, because so much attention was paid to missing children — but not to missing adults.
Caison said one of the biggest changes in the 20 years her organization has been around is that law enforcement takes missing persons cases much more seriously from beginning, instead of waiting days or weeks to launch investigations.
"They get it now," she said. "Back in the day they didn't throw the resources at these cases, assuming first somebody wanted to disappear."
Her friends in law enforcement have gotten used to seeing her around Myrtle Beach, which is 75 miles from her home in Wilmington, N.C.
"They are telling me I should just move my office down here these days," Caison said.