After five years, a local mother is still coping with the disappearance of her daughter, Brandi Cole, who would have turned 23 years old today.
On July 7, 2007, Cole went missing without a trace at the young age of 17. This was the day that changed Shellie Auchtung’s life forever.
Cole, hazel-eyed with short brown hair at the time of her disappearance, was 5’7” tall. She weighed between 120 and 125 pounds. She was last seen getting into a white four-door, king-cab truck with a black woman and four Hispanic men in the area of Puckett Park, in south Tifton, disappearing without a trace.
Auchtung, now age 45, says she will not stop searching for her daughter.
“It doesn’t matter if I’m 65 years old, I will still look for her,” she said in a phone interview.
Last year on Cole’s birthday, Auchtung said she bought some balloons for Cole’s 7-year-old daughter, Carmen, to release into the sky with the words “I love you, mommy” written on them. Carmen was two years old when Cole disappeared.
Auchtung stated that she and Carmen plan to do the same thing today in celebration of Cole’s birthday.
“She believes her momma is an angel,” she said.
She added that Carmen was excited last year to see the balloons drift upwards into the sky, disappearing into the clouds.
“She said that her momma reached down and got her present,” Auchtung stated.
She said Carmen is now living with her father, but she continues to stay in contact with her. Carmen asks her questions about her mother, but Auchtung doesn’t have the answers.
“I tell her that she (Cole) is in heaven with God. She thinks that her mom is the brightest star in the sky,” Auchtung stated.
She said Cole was loved, and Carmen deserves somewhere to put a flower for her mother. She stressed that there are people out there who know what happened to her daughter.
She stated that she, Cole and her other daughter, who is 24, were very close. She sadly said when she was suffering with cancer (now a cancer survivor), her daughters were there for her.
“I accept that it was in God’s will. I’m not going to question God,” Auchtung said about Cole’s disappearance. “My grandbaby is innocent in all of this. She’s been sheltered from it.”
She stated that Carmen is very smart. She added that she has put together a photo album/scrapbook containing photos of Cole, Gazette newspaper articles about her disappearance, letters from her when she was a small child and other childhood memories for Carmen to have and look back on when she’s older.
“That’s all she will have of her momma,” Auchtung said. “She will be able to draw her own conclusion.”
Anyone with any information is encouraged to contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s 24-hour hotline at 1-800-843-5678, the Tift County Sheriff’s Office at 388-6021 or Auchtung at 472-6030.
To contact reporter Latasha Everson, call 382-4321.