When Colleen Perris left her family’s Plantation Acres, Florida, home on Saturday, September 30, 2000, she said that she was going to nearby Coral Springs, Florida, to get something to eat. It was around 3:00 pm when the 18-year-old waved goodbye to her mother, climbed into her white Mazda MX-6, and drove away. She never returned and was never seen again.
That Saturday had started out as a normal day for the teenager. She had spent a couple of hours with her boyfriend that morning before dropping him off at work at 1:00 pm. Once she returned home, she called her father, Nick, at the postal center he owned to see if he needed any help at the store. He told her it had been a slow day and he didn’t need an extra pair of hands, so she spent the next couple of hours at the house with her mother, Nancy.
Around 3:00 pm, Colleen had taken a call on her cell phone. Her mother wasn’t sure who she was talking to, but noted that it seemed to be a routine call with a friend so she didn’t pay too much attention to the conversation. Shortly after getting off her phone, Colleen told her mother that she was going to go out for a while.
Nancy later admitted that she had barely glanced up when Colleen said goodbye; Colleen’s tone of voice had been normal and there was nothing to suggest that she was leaving for anything other than a routine visit with a friend. Nancy certainly had no idea that it would be the last time she would see her daughter.
The family had tickets to see the Florida Marlins play the Philadelphia Phillies at 7:00 pm, and Colleen planned to be home in plenty of time to make it to the game. When she hadn’t returned by 6:00 pm, her parents were concerned but not overly worried. They tried calling her cell phone, but got no answer and assumed she had met up with friends and lost track of time. When they hadn’t heard back from her by late that evening, however, they started to worry that something was wrong.
At 18 years old, Colleen was legally an adult but was still attending Plantation High School and lived at home with her parents. She had a close relationship with her mother and father, and would sometimes help her father out at his business, Central Park Postal Center. She had also worked as a waitress at a couple of local restaurants, carefully putting money aside for several vacations she had planned. She was a responsible young woman who always kept her parents informed about her whereabouts.
Colleen had a close circle of friends, and her parents started calling them all on Sunday. It soon became apparent that no one had spoken with Colleen since the previous day; even worse, none of her friends knew what she had been planning to do in Coral Springs. They didn’t know who had called her around 3:00 pm Saturday, but it hadn’t been any of them.
Nick and Nancy called the Plantation Police Department and reported Colleen missing. Without any evidence pointing to foul play, investigators believed she had most likely taken off with some friends and would return home within a few days. Still, they wanted to err on the side of caution and searched along all the possible routes she might have taken to get from Plantation Acres to Coral Springs. Detectives also called the airport and local bus stations in an effort to locate Colleen’s car but came up empty.
By Thursday, investigators stated that they had been in contact with other police agencies across the state so they would be aware that Colleen was missing, but so far they had been unable to develop any leads to her location. A spokesperson for the Plantation Police Department told reporters that they had done everything they could do at that point, but had no information pointing to what might have happened to the missing teenager.
Colleen’s family and friends weren’t content to sit at home and let the police handle the investigation; they did everything they could to generate their own leads. Nick, the Vice President of the Plantation Acres Homeowner’s association, was a popular figure in the neighborhood and the community rushed to help when they learned his daughter was missing. By Wednesday, they had distributed missing person flyers throughout the city; the next day, they covered cities throughout Broward County.
On Friday, a family friend who was passing out missing person flyers near the Tamarac Square West shopping center in Tamarac, Florida, found Colleen’s car in the parking lot of the strip mall. Although the car appeared to be in good condition, it was parked next to an abandoned fast-food restaurant and there was no sign of Colleen.
Investigators were immediately called in to process the car. The windows were rolled up and the doors were locked, and the only things that appeared to be missing were Colleen’s purse and cell phone. There was nothing in or around the vehicle to suggest that Colleen had been a victim of foul play, but detectives didn’t believe that the teenager would have willingly abandoned her car.
Investigators carefully combed through all the car’s contents, but there were no clues as to Colleen’s location. It was clear that the car had been parked in the lot for at least a few days; it was possible it had been there since the day Colleen went missing. The Florida heat, as well as several rain storms, had taken a toll; detectives were unable to find any useable prints or other forensic evidence on the car’s exterior.
With the discovery of her car, the search for Colleen kicked into high gear. Detectives noted that she was just weeks away from earning her high school diploma through Plantation High School’s Kaleidoscope alternative program, which had allowed her to work during the day and attend classes at night. She and her boyfriend had planned to take a vacation to Colorado after she finished school, and she had already bought her plane ticket. She had also been excited about an upcoming cruise she was taking. Investigators felt sure that she wouldn’t have willingly walked away from all of this.
Desperate to find their daughter, Colleen’s parents set up a fund so they could offer a reward for information about her location. They also started a website so people could submit tips about the case online; although they did receive some information, none of it led them any closer to Colleen.
A month after Colleen was last seen, the Plantation Police Department asked for assistance from the FBI, noting that they believed that Colleen had met with foul play. Plantation Police Detective Steve Geller told reporters that the department did not believe that Colleen was a runaway. “We suspect foul play at this point. She was very reliable and a good decision-maker, and she had upcoming plans.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was also assisting in the investigation, and they started combing through Colleen’s address book, taking a hard look at all of her associates. Starting with her family and working their way out, FDLE investigators began interviewing and re-interviewing everyone who knew Colleen. They also administered dozens of polygraph examinations, hoping to find some inconsistency that might help them determine what had happened to the missing teen.
Nick and Nancy had believed from the start that foul play was involved, and they welcomed the assistance of the FBI and the FDLE, hoping that the additional resources available would bring Colleen home. As the holiday season came and went, however, they found it even harder to cope with the situation. Although they remained optimistic that their daughter was still alive, it was a rough Christmas for all of Colleen’s loved ones.
Months went by with no progress on the case. Despite the best efforts of investigators, they were unable to determine what had happened to Colleen after she left home for the last time. One of the detectives working on the case noted that Colleen had everything a teenage girl could want; she had a loving family, good friends, her own car, a cell phone paid for by her parents, and a savings account with more than $1,100 she had earned from waitressing. It appeared that the only thing she had taken with her was her cell phone; her car had been found and her bank account remained untouched.
Unfortunately, cellular technology in 2000 was still somewhat primitive when compared to that available today. Colleen’s phone was through a major carrier — AT&T — but obtaining her call logs required investigators to get a subpoena from the court. By the time they obtained one and the phone company processed their request, it was too late. Colleen’s cell phone was never recovered and all relevant data pertaining to it had already been deleted; detectives were unable to access her cell phone records and could never determine who had called Colleen last on the afternoon she vanished.
The fact that Colleen was 18 when she disappeared made things harder for her family. They tried to get help from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, but were turned away. Nick petitioned America’s Most Wanted to feature his daughter’s disappearance, but they weren’t interested in her case. As Nick ruefully told a reporter, “She’s missing, but she wasn’t a young child, she wasn’t pregnant, and she wasn’t with a Congressman.” To AMW, her case simply wasn’t newsworthy.
More than three months after Colleen was last seen, AMW finally did agree to air a short segment about her disappearance. Detectives were grateful for the help — by this point tips about Colleen’s whereabouts had all but dried up — and they were hopeful that the national exposure would help jumpstart the investigation. After the AMW episode aired, more than 200 tips were called into the show’s tip line. Most of these came from people who believed they had seen Colleen, but none of the potential sightings could be confirmed.
Although they didn’t think that their daughter would have voluntarily gone so long without contacting them if she were able, Nick and Nancy wanted to believe she had done just that. They prayed that she had gone off to California to chase down her dream of becoming a star. They continued to pay her cell phone bill, and Nick routinely called her cell phone and left messages encouraging her to contact them. Her Mazda remained safely parked in their garage, and her bedroom was left just as it was when she left home for the last time.
While Colleen’s parents tried their best to remain optimistic, law enforcement officials didn’t believe the case would have a happy ending. They were convinced that she had met with foul play and they were certain that there were people in the area who knew exactly what had happened to her. Despite increasing the reward for information on several occasions, investigators were unable to uncover any new information and the case started to stall.
Colleen’s best friend, Aly Lopez, never believed that she had run away from home. The two had been friends for years, and she pointed out that Colleen was at a very good point in her life and was excited about the future. She also had information about the case that no one else knew.
Aly admitted to police that, once she learned that her best friend was missing, she accessed Colleen’s voicemail to see if it contained any clues as to what she had been doing on the day she was last seen. She claimed that Colleen’s voicemail contained three messages from one of Colleen’s uncles, reminding her to meet him at a Coral Springs shopping center. Since the messages were new, not saved, Aly assumed that Colleen hadn’t heard them yet. Aly admitted that she didn’t like Colleen’s uncle and didn’t want Colleen to hear the messages, so she deleted them. She would later say that doing so had been a huge mistake.
Although Aly later told police what she had heard, detectives were unable to retrieve the deleted messages. Colleen’s uncle, Mitch Ratisher, gave an on-camera interview for a second America’s Most Wanted episode in 2004, but he denied calling Colleen on the day of her disappearance. He did tell police that he had offered to help his niece get a job modeling lingerie but nothing else.Colleen (Photo credit: fdle.state.fl.us)
In the same AMW episode, Detective Joe Messina from the Plantation Police Department provided information that had previously been kept from the public. During the early stages of the investigation, detectives had received a tip that Colleen, in an attempt to save more money, had considered acting in a pornographic movie — an idea that had supposedly originated with her uncle. There were also allegations that Colleen had previously used LSD that had been supplied by her uncle.
Detective Messina stated that the tip had been central to the investigation, but that Mitch had denied everything. Although Mitch was never named a suspect, investigators did say that they believed he could have information that could help them solve the case. Mitch, however, refused to speak with detectives after his initial interview and would not agree to take a polygraph examination.
Mitch was married to Nick’s sister, and the fact that he refused to cooperate in the investigation was a source of tension within the family. Although police never indicated that Mitch was a suspect, Nick and Nancy stopped speaking to him.
Four years after Colleen vanished, Nick and Nancy finally made the heartbreaking decision to stop paying for her cell phone. They also sold her car and cashed out her college fund to offer a $20,000 reward for information leading to their daughter’s location. They have accepted the fact that Colleen is most likely no longer alive; she was declared legally dead in 2007.
There have been no new developments in the investigation in years, and Colleen is still officially classified as a missing person. Detective Messina, however, is certain that she is dead, telling reporters that “we believe something catastrophic happened that afternoon.” He believes that she met someone she trusted who took advantage of that trust in the worst possible way. Investigators continue to hope that someone will come forward with the information they need to finally obtain justice for Colleen.
Colleen Perris was 18 years old when she went missing in 2000. She has hazel eyes and blonde hair, though she had previously dyed her hair black, brown, and burgundy. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5 feet 2 inches tall and weighed 95 pounds. Her ears, belly button, and tongue were pierced and she had a tattoo of a butterfly on her lower back and a tattoo of Chinese characters on her right ankle. If you have any information about Colleen, please contact the Plantation Police Department at 954–797–2118.