LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- It's been five months since a Little Rock teen disappeared.
Since October 24, no one has seen or heard from 18-year-old Central High student Ebby Steppach.
Thursday, March marks her 19th birthday. Ahead of a candlelight vigil that night, THV11’s Laura Monteverdi sat down with her mother, who refuses to label her daughter as a runaway.
Laurie Jernigan says she doesn't know exactly what happened to her daughter, but the search has opened her eyes to a world she never even knew about: sex trafficking.
And now she fears that her daughter may be a victim.
“Someone has her. Someone has her and is not letting her come home,” said Jernigan.
It's a thought Laurie Jernigan refuses to let cross her mind; that her 18-year-old daughter simply ran away.
“When we found her makeup case in the car, that's when I knew she didn't leave on her own.”
Since Ebby disappeared last year, Jernigan has returned to work. But her fight to find her daughter is never far from her mind.
“This whole incident with Ebby has uncovered some really dark and evil things that go on in this world.”
Jernigan believes her daughter could possibly be a victim of human trafficking.
For months, she's been working closely with local law enforcement, the FBI and a non –profit, Halos Investigations, which searches for missing, trafficked and kidnapped teens.
“I look every day in places that are your worst nightmare to see if your daughter's there.”
“Up until a few years ago it wasn't a buzz word as it is today. It's a word people associate with prostitutes, runaways and other things like that,” said Sgt. Allen Hamby with the Little Rock vice Unit.
Sgt. Hamby says his detectives handle reports of human and sex trafficking every single day.
“We’re going to try everything we can to help them find her and locate her and see if she wants to be found. We don't know that.”
While the details to her daughter's disappearance remain unclear, one thing Jernigan is certain of is that awareness is key.
She's hoping a community wide candlelight vigil Thursday night to mark Ebby's 19th birthday will help bring her home.
“I want it to be so big, with so many lights so she will see how much she is loved,” said Jernigan.
Other items recovered from Ebby's vehicle, including her contacts and cell phone, have led Jernigan to believe her daughter was taken against her will.
The vigil will begin at 7 p.m. at Little Rock Christian Academy's campus. Candles will be provided.
There will also be a love offering, which will be used to help fund the search. For more information, click here.