It’s been 23 years since Dannette and Jeannette Millbrooks, 16-year-old fraternal twins, disappeared without a trace, but their younger sister never gave up hope, eventually prompting Richmond County investigators to reopen the case.
“Twins don’t just go missing,” Sheriff Richard Roundtree said Tuesday. “One person may go missing but not twins. Sixteen-year-olds don’t have the means (to leave).”
The sheriff’s office released age progression photos Tuesday of what the 39-year-olds might look like today.
Shanta Sturgis was 12 years old when her sisters walked out of their Cooney Drive home for the last time on March 18, 1990. She remembers lying on the couch, crying and begging to go with them, but they promised they’d be back soon. By evening, she and her family were frantically searching.
The twins had walked to a friend’s home at 12th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard and were last seen in the area after leaving the home. Both were freshmen at Lucy C. Laney High School at the time.
The family tried to remain hopeful in the hours and days after the disappearance, but the twins were not the type to run away, Sturgis said.
Dannette suffered from seizures, but her medication was left behind.
“Knowing her condition, there’s no way she would have run away from home,” Sturgis said.
Their mother, Mary Sturgis, said the news that the case had been closed on their 17th birthday in April 1991 was devastating. Roundtree said it appeared that someone reported the girls’ return. The case was closed, but a final report was never filed.
Even though she was young, Shanta Sturgis could see the pain her mother was facing while juggling the rearing of her remaining eight children.
“My mom did a pretty good job raising us after the fact,” she said. “I knew she was sad. She would go in her room and close the door. She got so discouraged.”
When Shanta Sturgis was older she began her own quest to find her sisters. When the requests for the sheriff’s office to reopen the case went unanswered, Sturgis began searching for other ways. She looked on the Internet to see if their names appeared. She contacted the FBI and even Oprah Winfrey and John Walsh from America’s Most Wanted, but no one offered help.
“When you don’t have the help you want, you just start to give up,” she said. “It’s just hard to not know.”
Earlier this year, she contacted Roundtree, who asked investigators to look into the case. Sturgis said Maj. Scott Peebles called to say the unsettling matter of the case being closed on “hearsay” prompted investigators to reopen it.
“We have found absolutely no traces based on Social Security numbers, date of birth or names,” Roundtree said. “But miracles do happen.”
The sheriff’s office began working with the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children to get photos of what the twins could look like today.
“It was scary,” Shanta Sturgis said of the first time she saw the age progression photos. “I was like what if I’ve seen these people before and didn’t realize it was them.”
Now the more she looks at the photo of Jeannette, the more she sees herself.
The family said news of every abduction, discovery of remains and recent cases – such as the July arrest of Michael Madison in Cleveland, Ohio, for the death of three women – brings back haunting memories.
Her sisters’ disappearance has resulted in Shanta Sturgis’ own fears for her five children, who are constantly reminded of the dangers.
She said she tells her daughter: “You could be here one day and the next day be gone.”