The Long Drive Home : Michelle McMullen
Missing since September 26, 2008
Each episode of Investigation Discovery's hit series Disappeared profiles missing persons cases in the hopes that viewers can share fresh leads or new information to provide closure to the families left behind. The series had a breakthrough today when missing Michelle McMullen was arrested after police in Oakland, California received a tip from a viewer who had seen McMullen's Disappeared episode.
McMullen disappeared on September 29, 2008 from Harrisburg, PA while police were investigating the theft of more than $2,000 from her former place of employment. Investigators believed she went on the run while her parents feared that she was abducted, as she had left behind a six-year-old. McMullen is currently waiting to be extradited to Harrisburg where she will face charges of theft and forgery.
As quoted in The Patriot-News, after hearing that her daughter had been found, McMullen's mother, the Rev. Lillie McMullen said, "We're excited and we're thanking God that's she's been found alive."
On Friday Sept 26, 2008, 27-year-old Michelle McMullen learns from her boss at McDonald's that he has agreed to give her the weekend off. For Michelle, a single mother and full-time college student at Grambling State University in Ruston, Louisiana, this is exciting news. For months Michelle has been juggling her responsibilities as mother, student, and employee and has recently made the difficult decision that her beloved 6-year-old son, Jayden, would be better off living with family members back in Harrisburg, PA while she completes her studies. A weekend off gives her an opportunity to make the 18-hour drive back to Harrisburg and return to Louisiana in time for classes on Tuesday.
After attending a school fair with her son and some college friends Saturday morning, Michelle embarks on the long journey for Pennsylvania. Knowing that her parents would be at church when she arrives in town and would insist that she spend the night to rest, Michelle decides not to tell them she's making the trip. Instead, Michelle arranges for her closest friend to watch Jayden for the weekend and take him to her parents' house on Monday morning.
Driving through the night, she arrives at her friend's house around 8:30 PM on Sunday evening, drops Jayden off, and immediately gets back on the road for Louisiana. Around 9:30 PM, Michelle calls her friend to check in on Jayden. Michelle is relieved to learn that Jayden was able to get to bed and tells her that she will call again in a few hours to let her know how the drive is coming. The conversation lasts only a few minutes. It is the last time anyone hears from Michelle McMullen.
Her friend is not surprised that Michelle doesn't call her back that evening, and on Monday drops Jayden off at Michelle's parents' house. Michelle's father Michael, however, begins to worry when Michelle doesn't return any of the voice messages he leaves on her cell phone. Michelle suffers from severe migraines and he worries that she might have had another attack that might have caused her to be get in a car accident. This fear is not unfounded. A year earlier, Michelle had such a severe attack that she had blacked out at home. Her son, Jayden, had to call 911 and paramedics were sent to the house to revive her.
On Tuesday, Sept 30, with still no word from Michelle, Michael goes to the Harrisburg Police and files a Missing Persons Report. Officers assure him that they will do everything they can to locate his daughter and tell him to go home and wait. On Friday, Oct 3, he calls the Harrisburg Police and is shocked to find that no action has been taken to try to locate his daughter. The following day they release information about Michelle's disappearance to the media.
On Tuesday Oct 7, a security guard at the Mac Truck Plant in Hagerstown, MD calls the police to report an abandoned Honda Accord parked outside their fence. Police run the license plate and discover it belongs to Michelle McMullen. The security guard estimates that the car has been parked there for approximately ten days, which would mean it had been there since Sunday, September 28 — the last day Michelle was heard from. Even though the area where the car is found is in plain view of the Mac Truck Plant, security cameras fail to detect the car arriving on September 28. The doors are unlocked and her cell phone, purse and photo identification are all still inside. There is otherwise no indication of foul play. Tracking dogs follow her scent for 50 feet before it goes cold. Surprisingly, the car is released to the McMullens without any further forensic examination.
The following day, on Tuesday, October 7, the Susquehanna Township Police, representing a jurisdiction near Harrisburg, issues a felony arrest warrant for Michelle McMullen, charging her with theft of over $2,000 from a local church where Michelle used to work. This comes as a complete shock to the family and they are furious that police now assume that Michelle has abandoned her son to flee arrest. Michael tells local media that there is no way Michelle would leave Jayden over $2,000. "We're firmly believing one thing has absolutely nothing to do with the another... This girl is not going to walk away from life for $2,000" he tells reporters. Michael had learned back in early September that Susquehanna Township investigators were interested in speaking with Michelle about this theft but, he says, they made it very clear that she was just wanted for questioning and that she was in no way being looked at as a suspect. Michael questions why police, if they considered Michelle a suspect, waited 11 days after she went missing to issue the arrest warrant.
There have been no other clues since Michelle's car was discovered. But that does not prevent Michael McMullen from searching for his daughter on his own. With the help of the missing persons advocacy group Black and Missing, Michael conducts a ground search of the area where Michelle's car was found in Hagerstown, MD on Saturday, November 8. Unfortunately, no new evidence turns up. Michael has also been reviewing what clues have been discovered. Why did the tracking dogs lose Michelle's scent after 50 feet? What is the significance of that distance? Michael believes this is the approximate length of a tractor-trailer truck. Is it possible that a truck pulled up and blocked Michelle's car from the security cameras? Could Michelle have been lured to a truck cab and then taken by force?
Or is it possible that Michelle is actually running from the law? The friends she was with at the school fair before she left for Pennsylvania say she gave no indication that she was preparing to flee or abandon her son, Jayden. There has been no activity on her bank account or credit cards and she has no other apparent source of money. Michael has reached out to all of Michelle's friends — from school, Facebook and MySpace. No one claims to have had any contact with her since her disappearance. Michael firmly believes Michelle was taken against her will. What else, he asks, would explain why her purse, phone, and ID were left in her abandoned car?