A 26-year-old pregnant woman went missing in Chicago five years ago. Now as the anniversary of her disappearance approaches, her family is still looking for answers and expressing frustration about how police have handled the case.
Kierra Coles was three months pregnant when she disappeared on Oct. 2, 2018. As of Friday morning, there were no updates on the case and Chicago police consider it cold.
Karen Phillips, Kierra Coles' mother, told USA TODAY on Thursday that she's been frustrated with the lack of progress over the years and believes her daughter's case hasn't been prioritized because of the color of her skin.
“Keeping it real, if my daughter was white, they would have maybe found either her or found out what happened,” she said. “They just didn’t do enough. OK, they did the search, they pulled the cameras around in the area and then that was it.”
Chicago police previously told USA that "this is still an open investigation" in response to Phillips' frustration, though they did not immediately respond to her comments involving race.
"We are seeking any and all information in an attempt to locate her and we won't stop until we do," they said.
'Nowhere to be found'
Coles’ mother said she last spoke to her daughter on Oct. 2, 2018. She said Coles was shopping for her baby and was so excited to become a mother.
“Two days later, on October 4, the Coles family filed a missing person’s report for Kierra,” Homicide Detective Lt. Will Svilar said in a police video made to draw attention to the case last year. “While attempting to locate her, officers forced entry into Kierra’s apartment but she was nowhere to be found.”
Police used security footage to map out the hours leading up to her disappearance. In one video, Coles is seen carrying groceries into her apartment building.
A man later arrived and the pair left together in a car, with Coles driving. Minutes later, the pair went to Walgreens, where security footage shows Coles withdrawing hundreds of dollars from an ATM. Her mother said it was odd, especially since it was around 11 p.m.
“Less than an hour later, the vehicle is seen arriving and parking in another area of the city,” Svilar said in the video. “The person of interest exits the passenger side of the vehicle but nobody exits the driver’s side.”
The next day, the man was seen parking Coles’ car near her apartment complex, going into the building alone and leaving with some items, police say. He left the area in his own car.
Though police consider him a person of interest they have not released his name. Police spokesperson Kellie Bartoli said it's department policy not to release the names of any persons of interest until they're charged.
Phillips said she believes the person of interest has information that could help solve her daughter's case.
“(He) knows something about her disappearance,” she said. “He knows something.”
Community supports family in droves
Family members of Coles, a postal worker, have passed out posters in search of the missing woman.
They marked what would be her 31st birthday on Sept. 24 and said they wouldn’t give up on searching for her.
"Every year I hope I don't have to come stand up here and announce that my child is still not home yet," Phillips told reporters.
The child she was carrying is her first and Coles is the last of Phillips’ five children to have a baby of their own, she told USA TODAY.
The 26-year-old often tried to parent her own mom and siblings, she said.
“She always was trying to help somebody or give advice,” Phillips said. “Whether you wanted it or not, she was going to give it to you … We were so excited and couldn't wait to see her become a mother because she wanted to tell everybody else how to be a mother and she wasn't a mother yet.”
She said her daughter loved dancing, taking photos, getting dolled up and doing her makeup.
She was determined to get a job with the U.S. Postal Service. She took on seasonal jobs and kept trying until she was hired permanently after about three years. She loved her job, her mother said in a video released by Chicago police.
Her four siblings miss her a lot, her mother said. They argued like regular siblings but came together when it mattered.
The family celebrated her birthday on Sept. 24 by singing "Happy Birthday" and serving cake.
“I just hope every year that it’s the last time we’re doing this and that next year, we’ll actually be celebrating with her,” her mother said. “It’s just stressful around her birthday.”
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Efforts to help find the missing woman over the years have included multiple cash rewards. About seven months after she disappeared, the reward for information had climbed to more than $46,000, WLS-TV in Chicago reported.
"I just don't want my sister gone forever," Kierra’s sister, Kianna Coles, told the outlet at the time.
"And I hope that somebody out there, somebody that (does) know what's going on can help us give her a safe return — her and my niece or nephew," she said.
Phillips said at Coles' birthday event on Sept. 24: “I just thank everybody that continues to pray with the family and support the family and have faith that Kierra will return home.”
Police have asked that anyone with information about the disappearance of Coles call Chicago police at 833-408-0069 or 312-746-7330.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kierra Coles vanished in Chicago 5 years ago; family hasn't given up