Heaven LaShae Ross was up early for school on the morning of Tuesday, August 19, 2003. The 11-year-old — who preferred to be called Shae — had recently started sixth grade at Collins-Riverside Middle School in her hometown of Northport, Alabama. Shae left the trailer she shared with her mother, stepfather, and older sister around 6:55 am to make the 50-yard walk to her bus stop. Shae said goodbye to her mother and stepfather, then rushed to catch up with her 13-year-old sister, who had left the house a couple of minutes earlier.

Shortly after Shae left for the bus stop, a storm started to roll in and it began to thunder. Shae’s stepfather, Kevin, knew that Shae had always hated thunder; he decided to intercept the girls at the bus stop and drive them to school so they wouldn’t have to wait outside in the rain. He went outside and took a few steps in the direction of the bus stop, which was located just outside the Willowbrook Trailer Park. He called out for Alex and Shae, but only Alex responded. There was no sign of Shae at all. Somehow, on the short walk from the trailer park to the bus stop, Shae had vanished.

Unsure what was going on, Kevin backtracked to the trailer and checked to make sure Shae hadn’t managed to return home without him noticing. Panic started to set in when he realized that she wasn’t there, and he was forced to tell his wife, Beth, that her youngest daughter appeared to be missing.

Beth immediately feared the worst. Shae wasn’t the sort of child who had ever wandered far from home, and she certainly wasn’t the type to skip any of her classes. Certain that someone must have abducted her daughter, Beth called the police.

Despite Shae’s young age, police weren’t initially concerned about her disappearance. They assured Beth that Shae had probably decided to take off with some friends and would return home after the school day was over. Beth insisted that Shae would never do anything like that, but police held firm. Noting that no one had reported seeing Shae being forced into a car, police said they were unable to issue an Amber Alert.

Police went door-to-door in the trailer park to see if anyone had seen Shae or seen anything strange that morning, even though they didn’t think there was any foul play. They were able to find three people who saw Shae walking to the bus stop, but none of them had seen anything that seemed odd. As she left her house, a young man walking to the bus stop saw her. At the same time, a neighbor looked out her window and saw Shae walk by her trailer.

A woman who lived closer to the bus stop told the police that she had seen Shae walking down Hunter Creek Road. She could describe Shae’s hot pink outfit that day with great detail. She had only seen Shae for a short time, so she couldn’t tell the police if Shae made it to her bus stop or not.

When police talked to the neighbors, they were all helpful. They let police look through their trailers on their own time to make sure Shae wasn’t in any of them. After making sure Shae wouldn’t be in the trailer park, the police went to Collins-Riverside Middle School.

They talked to a lot of Shae’s classmates to see if anyone knew where she was, but the kids seemed confused by her sudden disappearance. The police asked Shae’s friends if she had access to a cell phone or computer, but it didn’t take them long to figure out that Shae hadn’t been talking to anyone online.

When the school day was over and Shae still hadn’t been seen, the police realized they had been wrong about their first guess that she had skipped class for the day. Now, the police seemed to think that Shae might have been a victim of foul play. Beth felt somewhat vindicated, but she was also mad that they had taken so long to change their minds. It had been almost eight hours since Shae had been seen or heard from. If she had been taken, she could be very far from home.

By late afternoon, the trailer park was packed with police officers, reporters, and detectives. Even though the investigation into Shae’s disappearance got off to a slow start, the police seemed determined to make up for it. By the time the sun went down that night, police from all over the state and country would be there. It didn’t take long to set up a mobile command center, which would stay in use for ten weeks.

As word spread in the neighborhood that a child was missing, hundreds of people gathered at the trailer park to help look for the child. Local businesses were also quick to offer their help. Olive Garden and K-Mart made sure the volunteers had plenty to eat and drink, and Home Depot donated ink that was used by Kinkos and Office Max to print thousands of missing person flyers quickly and for free.

Though volunteers helped with the search for Shae, detectives were busy looking all over the area for anyone who might have seen the girl after she went missing. They used surveillance footage from Steve’s Grill & Billiards, a business that was close enough to the bus stop for its camera to pick up cars going that way. The detectives had hoped that the video would help them figure out what happened to Shae, but it didn’t.

As with all cases involving missing children, detectives had to think that Shae’s parents might have had something to do with her disappearance. Beth admitted that the family had some rough times. At least one time, Beth and Kevin got into a physical fight, and the police had to step in. But Shae and Kevin seemed to be getting along great, and there was no evidence that he had been violent with her.

Kevin and Beth both agreed to take polygraph tests about Shae’s disappearance because they knew they would need to be ruled out as suspects. They both passed, and detectives were sure they had nothing to do with it.

Almost a month after Shae went missing, police said they had arrested a 21-year-old man in the area to question him. He had been in trouble with the law before for keeping runaways underage. He was friends with Shae’s older brother. Even though he had a bad past, investigators eventually found that he had nothing to do with Shae’s disappearance, so he was let go.

Five weeks into their search for Shae, the police were called back to the family’s trailer because of an odd fire. There was only fire in Shae’s bedroom, and many of the missing girl’s things were destroyed. Fire investigators thought the fire was suspicious and thought it had been set on purpose, but the family had no idea who would have done something like that.

Even after months, police were still no closer to finding Shae than they were the day she was reported missing. Her family tried to stay positive as the holidays got closer. Beth bought Shae gifts and wrapped them in holiday paper so they could be put under the tree. As the new year began, she prayed that Shae would be home in time to open them. But the child was nowhere to be found.

A lot of people, both locally and nationally, heard about Shae’s case. This is why there were so many tips in the first few months of the investigation. But as time went on, the tips slowed down. Detectives eventually followed up on all of their leads, but Shae was still missing. Her family prayed for her safe return and tried to hold on to the hope that she was somewhere alive and well.

In the early stages of the investigation, the sheriff bought and hung up the exact hot pink Bratz shirt Shae was wearing when she went missing. At this point, he knew they were probably looking for a body, and he wanted to make sure his deputies knew what to look for as they searched through the woods.

On December 19, 2006, a man was collecting cans inside an abandoned house in Holt, Alabama when he stumbled upon human skeletal remains. As soon as deputies arrived on scene, they knew that Shae had been found; the skeleton was encased in a hot pink Bratz shirt. Her remains had been stuffed into a crawlspace that was filled with broken bottles, cans, and trash. Her bookbag was found just a few feet away from her body.

The home, which was on a dirt road about eight miles away from the trailer park where Shae had last been seen, was in an area known for its high crime rate. Detectives believed that the person who left Shae’s body there had to be local, as someone unfamiliar with the area would never have stumbled upon the property.

Beth admitted that being able to give Shae a proper burial helped give her a small measure of closure, but she will never have true closure until the monster responsible for killing her daughter is arrested and convicted.

To date, police have not released any information about how Shae was killed, and though they have considered a few suspects over the years, they have never had enough evidence to charge anyone with her mu*rder. The house she was found in was known for being a place where people went to use drugs and engage in other illegal activities, and investigators believe that people who frequented the location likely have information about the m*urder but have been reluctant to come forward due to their own criminal backgrounds. They hope that these people will finally decide to do the right thing and tell detectives what they know.

Heaven LaShae Ross was just 11 years old when she was mur*dered in 2003. She was at the age where she was just starting to develop an interest in boys, but she was killed long before she could experience her first date. It has been more than 17 years since Shae was m*urdered, and her killer is still at large. Justice is long overdue. If you have any information about Shae’s murd*er, please contact the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Office at 205–752–0616.

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