Missing Myrtle Beach woman’s case underscores awareness for student safety

For Weekly SurgeJanuary 15, 2014 

As classes begin for spring semester, Heather Elvis, the 20-year-old Myrtle Beach woman who disappeared on Dec. 18, will not be joining her classmates for the start of the semester. She won’t get to gripe about purchasing overpriced textbooks, trying to find parking, or the inconvenience of professors’ office hours. Instead, her family and community continue to search for her.

Elvis, a former Horry-Georgetown Technical College student who switched to an online academy, was dropped off at her home from a date at 2 a.m. and called her roommate to let her know how the date went. Her father received a text message around 11 p.m. with a photo of her date’s truck. Her date was teaching her how to drive a manual shift, which her roommate drives. Heather’s car, a 2001 dark green Dodge Intrepid, was found locked and parallel parked at the Peachtree Boat Landing in Socastee, eight minutes from her home.

Elvis’ family has teamed up with Tilted Kilt, where she worked, The Market Common, and various news outlets to spread flyers, notices, and search parties to find their missing daughter. HLN’s Nancy Grace covered Elvis’ disappearance on her Jan. 6 show, and the reward for any information has increased to $25,000. The Myrtle Beach community has rallied around the family and many people have reposted and re-Tweeted information about her disappearance.

“We’re willing to do whatever we can,” says Phillip Moore, major of operations for Public Safety at Coastal Carolina University. “We’ve posted it on our Facebook page and are trying to put the word out.” CCU’s Marine Science Department faculty and staff have also provided assistance in trying to locate Elvis.

As a safety reminder to students and staff, Moore warned about communications - the lack-of and excess. “Let someone know your plan. Let them know who you’re going to be with and what time you’re expected to be back,” Moore says.

He also adds that there is danger in posting too much information on social media. “Don’t post that you’re out of town or not at home or home alone. Don’t advertise things that could compromise your safety.”

Last weekend, Bill Barrett, a close friend to the Elvis family, set up a tent outside of Bob Evans Restaurant off of U.S. 501 for people to provide information or tips pertaining to the case. An RV was donated for the volunteers to use so they could be there 24/7.

“People are really coming out and reporting,” says Toni Birchler, a volunteer at the tent. “One family stopped by and prayed with us.” Birchler says people have reported a car parked in an empty lot for two days and then disappearing, two kids walking down the road at night with hats on, and other things that wouldn’t necessarily seem strange. “It’s nothing, but they’re finding things that don’t fit their normal lives.”

Elvis’ disappearance is an alarming reminder of another young woman, 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel, who disappeared on April 25, 2009 and has not been found. Drexel was last seen leaving the BlueWater Resort in Myrtle Beach.

“It’s unreal to think that this is happening in our community again,” says Birchler. “And we haven’t even solved the other one.”

More and more people have come out to show their support for Elvis and her family. “It’s the right thing to do,” says Toni Sankey, another volunteer at the tent. “I’d want the whole world out searching if it were my kids.”

Members of Elvis’ family have been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received. “You see the prayers and you see the love of the people around you,” says Terry Elvis, Heather’s father. “The words ‘thank you’ don’t come close to the amount of gratitude the whole family has. The community as a whole has done more than I would’ve ever dreamed.”

Terry Elvis echoes Moore’s advice to young people and college students in the area and advises for them to find safety in numbers. “Don’t take your safety for granted. In a moment’s notice, it can change. Stay in touch with your parents. Call them every day. Let someone know you’re safe. The world we live in is not the one I grew up in. People hide the evil that they are.”

Elvis’ disappearance occurred almost four months after another local youth, Zachary Malinowski, was reported missing. Malinowski, a 19-year-old from Aynor, has been missing since Aug. 26.

A car matching the description of Malinowski’s, a 1996 dark purple/burgundy Chevy Beretta, was found burned in a wooded area on Sept. 2. Police were unable to identify the vehicle conclusively, and the teenager was not found on-site. The police and community continue to search for Malinowski, and his family has offered a $2,500 reward.

Volunteers who want to help can sign up at www.ncmissingpersons.org/volunteer-online-2/

Anyone with information pertaining to these missing person cases can call 915-TIPS or e-mail crimetips@horrycounty.org.

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