LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) – It has been one year since anyone has seen or heard from Little Rock teen, Ebby Steppach.
The then 18-year-old was last heard from on October 24, 2015. She was reported missing the next day.
“It's the last day we talked to her. It's the last conversation we ever had with her,” said Laurie Jernigan, Ebby's Steppach's mother.
It has been a year of heartbreak and frustration for Jernigan, who has been desperately trying to find Steppach. Steppach last talked to her brother on the phone, and just a week later, her car was found abandoned with her belongings inside.
“It was obvious from the first day that a crime had been committed,” said Jernigan.
However, it’s a search that Jernigan feels could have been handled differently. She said she feels frustrated by law enforcement and that more should have been done in the early stages to bring her daughter home.
“You feel like you have the whole load of finding your child. You’re up all night. You’re up all day. Asking questions, calling people, and nothing is being done,” said Jernigan.
Jernigan claimed her daughter's car sat abandoned for a week at Chenal Park before police arrived.
“Her car had been called in at Chenal Park all week long, about two or three times to police from neighbors. A security guard was out there. No one responded."
It also was not until last month, 11 months after Steppach was reported missing, that Jernigan learned she was never registered on the National Missing and Exploited Children's website.
“I don't know if things could be different had someone responded quickly, but it's the turn of events. It's the way it happened,” said Jernigan.
One year later, she is looking forward. She said her daughter's case has been assigned new detectives, which gives her new hope.
“They have made more progress in the past three months than in the entire time she has been gone,” said Jernigan. “They have just really reassured us that [they have] got this. Us as a family; we can just grieve. Just breathe.”
Jernigan is also hoping to use her story to create change. She hopes to aid law enforcement and other parents in the search for missing children.
“I have to help others. There has to be a purpose. I don’t know why, but this has touched a lot of people. It has exposed a lot of things that need to be changed and a lot of crime that needs to be exposed,” said Jernigan.
While Jernigan has said in the past she believes her daughter may be a victim of sex trafficking; however, the unknown is her worst fear.
“The thought of her being hurt tortured or locked up, if that's what it takes for her to be alive, I don't want that to happen to her. I don't want her to suffer."
However, she said one thing is certain: she will never give up searching for Steppach.
“We will go to all lengths to find her and bring her home,” said Jernigan.
The detectives working the case said they would not comment on the ongoing investigation and that they are exploring all leads. They also said they don't want to jeopardize the case file by revealing too much.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a federal law allows missing persons ages 18 to 21 to be entered into the FBI's national crime database. However, only law enforcement can submit them.
There is currently a $15,000 reward for information leading to Ebby Steppach.