Darian Hudson had a dazzling smile that never failed to brighten someone’s day.
“If you were having a bad day, Darian would change that,” her mother, Stephanie Hudson, told Dateline. “She would just flash that smile of hers… or say something funny. She had this big heart that shone through her smile. And well, she was… she is… the light of our lives.”
But that light dimmed in October 2017 when Darian vanished from Stillwater, Oklahoma. She was 23 years old at the time.
“One day she’s talking about moving back home, making plans for nursing school, and the next she’s gone,” Stephanie said tearfully. “It just doesn’t make any sense. Where is she?”
It’s a question Darian’s family and friends have been asking for years. Stephanie, along with some of Darian’s close friends, have committed to posting photos or videos of Darian on social media every day in an effort to keep her story alive.
“Every single day,” Stephanie said. “I never miss a day. She’s not going away, her story isn’t going away. We’re going to find her.”
In 2017, Darian was living in Stillwater, Oklahoma and worked as a server at Chili’s, a few hours away from her hometown of Hutchinson, Kansas. She had been in the state for several years and played softball while attending Langston University.
She went through a rough time in the year leading up to her disappearance, as she suffered a miscarriage, a break-up with a boyfriend and the death of her beloved dog, Zig.
But always determined to bounce back, Darian enrolled in nursing classes and decided to move back home to save money. On October 21, 2017, she called her mother in Hutchinson to tell her the plan.
“She had gone through a rough time,” Stephanie explained. “But she was excited about nursing school, and coming home to be with her family. We made plans to come get her that weekend.”
But a few days later, Stephanie got word that Darian was missing.
“My phone was blowing up with calls and texts from her friends,” she said. “No one could find her and she hadn’t shown up for work.”
Darian’s family drove to Stillwater the next day and went straight to the Stillwater Police Department to file a missing persons report. Stephanie said they were told by police they had to wait 48 hours, so they started to canvass her neighborhood and talk to her friends.
Stephanie told Dateline the door to Darian’s duplex was open, a light was on and dishes were in the sink. After 48 hours, the Stillwater Police opened an investigation. Family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors were interviewed, but it wasn’t until December that they got a lead.
According to Detective Mary Kellison, someone attempted to use Darian's debit card in early December 2017 at a hotel in Oklahoma City, which alerted police. The man told police that he took the card from a purse that he found sitting on top of a concrete sewage container at a construction site he was working at in Stillwater back in October.
At the time, St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church was under construction at McElroy and Country Club Roads, just northwest of Stillwater.
Police went to the site and spoke to multiple workers who remembered seeing a woman in the area on October 26, 2017. They said the woman, who matched Darian’s description, was in a wooded area south of the site, Det. Kellison told Dateline. One worker told police that the woman had a blank stare and did not engage with anyone.
A man who lived on the property adjoining the church told police he saw Darian later that day talking with his grandchildren. According to Det. Kellison, the man stated his grandson got off the school bus and saw a female matching Darian’s description come up out of the creek, through his electrified fence, onto his property, and walk up to his grandchildren.
By the time the man got to his grandchildren, Darian was gone. He said that Darian was headed north to McElroy and then west toward Country Club. It is the last known sighting of Darian.
Stillwater Police brought in drones and cadaver dogs to search the area. Darian’s sweatshirt and wallet were found, but there was no trace of Darian.
In the years since, there have been no other sightings, no activity on her social media or bank accounts, and no substantial updates in her case.
“It’s not like her at all… she was the social media queen,” Stephanie said with a small laugh. “And she always had her phone. Always. Doesn’t make sense for her to be somewhere without it.”
Darian’s mother and several of her friends continue to hope and pray that she’ll be found safe, but are fearful that foul play was involved in her disappearance.
Cameron Nicholson used to play softball with Darian at Langston University, and the two have been friends ever since.
“She was -- she is -- my girl,” Cameron told Dateline. “We went through everything together in college, the good and the bad. And even when things were bad, she always asked how I was doing. She was always worried about others. It was never about her.”
Darian and Cameron were part of a group of friends who all played softball, and stayed close even after going their separate ways. Cameron, who had moved to Texas, told Dateline she saw a clear change in Darian’s life when she was dating her ex-boyfriend. She stopped playing softball and began hanging out with new friends whom she had met at work. Things only got worse after Darian suffered a miscarriage, she added.
“But even with everything going on in her life, I know she wouldn't have left on her own without telling anyone,” Cameron said. “And not for four years. She would not want us worrying about her. I pray that she's still alive, but I feel like someone did this to her.”
Cameron isn’t Darian’s only friend who feels this way.
Oddessi Hill, who has been friends with Darian since seventh grade, told Dateline the pair considered themselves sisters.
“We played volleyball and softball together - she was one hell of a shortstop,” Oddessi said with a laugh. “And she was just such a fun, bubbly person. With a big heart.”
Oddessi said as they grew older, they took different paths in life, but remained close. She spoke to Darian just a couple of weeks before she went missing.
“I just wish I would’ve taken the time to talk to her more,” Oddessi said. “To really find out what was going on in her life.”
Oddessi told Dateline that she fears something terrible happened to her friend.
“Someone knows what happened and who did this to her,” Oddessi said. “And that person needs to come forward. Because her mother, her siblings, her friends, we all need answers.”
Oddessi added that she hopes police will take a closer look at the case and the people in Darian’s life at the time.
“Police need to retrace their steps and start all over,” she said. “A lot of people are angry and sad. We’ve waited four years for answers and that’s four years too long.”
Detective Kellison told Dateline that, “we acknowledge that foul play could play a part in Darian Hudson's disappearance, however, we have no evidence to suggest that foul play is any more of a factor than any of the other possibilities for her disappearance.”
Detective Kellison said that Darian’s case is open and active and anyone with information is encouraged to call Stillwater Police or the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. She added that they remain committed to following up on any information that may surface.
The detective has also collaborated with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation’s Cold Case Unit to feature Darian’s case on a Cold Case Playing Card. The cards are distributed in area jails and prisons in the hope that an inmate with information will come forward.
Darian remains the department’s only outstanding missing persons case.
Her friend from her days at Barton Community College, Jaelyn Monhollon, told Dateline that she’ll continue to share Darian’s story for as long as it takes.
“There are people in Oklahoma who haven’t even heard of her story,” Jaelyn said. “I was shocked. So I keep sharing it. She doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.”
Jaelyn remembers Darian as being a loyal friend with a big heart who had goals and dreams and worked hard for them.
“She didn’t just disappear,” Jaelyn added. “There are so many unanswered questions and so many emotions, but we’ll never give up looking for her.”
Every day that Darian is missing is another day of heartache for her mother, Stephanie. And it’s another day that Stephanie posts a photo of her daughter, with her bright smile, hoping someone will come forward with information.
“I believe she’s still out there, and I will continue to believe that until I’m told otherwise,” Stephanie said. “But what I know for sure is that somebody knows something.”
For now, she continues to stay strong for Darian’s younger brother and sister, who keep her going as their family prays for answers.
“We’re coming up on four years now that she’s been missing, but it feels like yesterday,” Stephanie said. “What if this was your daughter or your sister or your friend? I pray every day that God softens their heart and they come forward.”
Darian would be 26 years old today. She’s described as being 5’3'' tall, 120 lbs with black hair and brown eyes. She has a tattoo of a feather and five birds with the words “Birds of a feather flock together” on the back of her right shoulder.
Anyone with information on Darian’s whereabouts or who saw something around the time she disappeared, is asked to contact Detective Mary Kellison at 405-742-8357 or the OSBI at 800-522-8017 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.