While the Fourth of July holiday is a celebratory time for many, for the family of Krishonda “Shonda” Townsend, it’s a stark reminder of yet another year without answers about why someone would want to murder their loved one.
Shonda, a 19-year-old mother who lived in Perrin, Texas, had spent the day of July 4, 2010 with friends and family in the nearby town of Mineral Wells. There was a cookout, swimming, fireworks and, after the family left, Shonda stayed with her friends to continue the party.
Around 11 p.m., after the fireworks display ended, Shonda drove one of her friends home. The friend would later tell police and Shonda’s family that Shonda went inside briefly and used the friend’s computer to check Facebook. She updated her status, posting “I got this.”
Shonda left the house on U.S. Highway 180 West a short time later to head to the Perrin, Texas home she and her 2-year old son, Haiden, shared with her mother, Carolyn. She never made it.
Carolyn Rittenbury told Dateline she got a text from her daughter at 12:10 a.m. on July 5. It stated that she was on her way home. So Carolyn went to bed, expecting to see her daughter in the morning.
“But when I woke up that morning, she still wasn’t home,” Carolyn said. “It wasn’t like her to stay out all night. And she had nothing to run away from. She had the little boy that she loved. She wouldn't have left like that on her own."
Described by her mother as kind, loving, and full of life, Shonda always had a smile. She attended Weatherford College part time and was very involved in the youth programs at her church. She loved her family, she loved the Lord, and she loved her son, Haiden.
“He was her whole world,” Carolyn added. “She would’ve never just walked away from him. Never.”
Two days later, Shonda’s 1997 gray and purple Toyota Camry was found in what some say was the “bad part of town” of Mineral Wells. The car had been ransacked and the stereo had been ripped out. Some of Shonda’s personal belongings were found in the car and her family was alerted.
Shonda’s aunt, April Hambrick Heinecke, has been consumed by her niece’s case since the beginning. She told Dateline authorities at the time did not secure the car or process it for evidence. They gave the go-ahead for the family to take the car. Several days later, a passerby found the keys to Shonda’s car tossed in an adjacent lot.
According to initial reports by Mineral Wells Police, cell phone activity continued on Shonda’s phone until around 2 a.m. the morning of July 5 before the phone went dead. The phone has never been located.
As days and weeks and months passed without answers, rumors and accusations swirled around the small town of Mineral Wells, Texas, and the even smaller town of Perrin.
Police conducted ground and aerial searches, and private searches were also done, including one by the CUE Center for Missing Persons. Dozens of friends, family members and persons of interest have been interviewed.
But no one would come forward with information about Shonda’s whereabouts.
So Shonda’s aunt took matters into her own hands and began her own investigation. She arranged searches, launched the Facebook group “Help find missing woman: Shonda Leann Townsend.”
And she was online every day - searching for clues. After several months passed without any trace of Shonda, April took another route.
“Every day, I woke up and got online and checked on bodies being identified,” April said. “We knew she was gone, but I wasn’t giving up. We needed something. We needed closure.”
It would be more than a year before Shonda’s family finally got one answer. And it wasn’t what they had hoped for.
"It is with heavy heart and bitter sweet relief that I inform everyone that ... the skeletal remains in Mineral Wells, Texas are that of our precious Shonda," April said in October 2011, acting as a spokesperson for the family. "I thank you all for all your prayers and support I ask that as of now please give our family some time to heal and grieve.”
According to the Palo Pinto Sheriff’s Department, who took over the case with the discovery of Shonda’s remains, in October 2011, a human skull and bones were discovered by a prospective buyer of an approximately 100-acre tract who was walking the land. The remains, found at the edge of a tree-lined area off Sand Hill Road, were identified as Shonda by her dental records.
“She had braces with pink bands,” April told Dateline. “They fit her personality perfectly. When her remains were found - that’s what they noticed right away. Her braces. It was her.”
Captain Chad Jordan of the Palo Pinto Sheriff’s Department told Dateline a cause of death could not be determined due to the condition of the remains, but did say Shonda’s case is considered a homicide investigation.
Several people, including Shonda’s friends, were questioned at the time and given polygraph tests in Capt. Jordan called an “extensive investigation,” but he added that there was no one clear person of interest.
The case has passed through the hands of several detectives over the years but Captain Jordan says their goal remains the same - to bring the person or persons who did this to Shonda to justice and to bring closure for the family.
“It’s now 10 years later and it has just stalled - time is just not your friend with these cases,” Captain Jordan said. “We’d love nothing more than to finally get resolution and for the person who did this to be brought to justice. Her case isn't on the back burner - we’re still doing everything we can.”
This July marks 11 years since Shonda went missing.
April Hambrick Heinecke still manages to work a full-time job and continues to search for clues about what could have happened to her niece. She told Dateline that within the past year, new information was provided to the family which may provide a break in the case. The information has been given to investigators.
In the meantime, the family continues to ask anyone who has information to come forward - hoping to find closure for themselves and for Shonda’s son Haiden, who was so young when his mother disappeared, that his memories of her come only from what his family has told him.
"He’s just a very smart little boy, he was just two years old, but he missed his mom very much,” Carolyn told Dateline. “He would ask for her every day, wanting to know where she was. At the time, we told him to pray to Jesus, so he did.”
Haiden is now 13 years old and lives with his grandmother who makes sure to keep Shonda’s memory alive. They talk about her daily and look at pictures, vowing never to forget her smile. She’s buried right down the street and they visit her often.
Carolyn told Dateline she would like to know who did this to her daughter, and the biggest question - why - but says she has given it all to God.
“It’s in God’s hands now and I’m at peace with that,” Carolyn told Dateline. “I wish she was here, of course, for our family, for her boy Haiden. But I’m at peace - we’ll see her again.”
Anyone with information about Shonda’s case is asked to contact the Palo Pinto Sheriff’s Department at 940-659-2085 or Texas Crime Stoppers at 1-800-252-TIPS (8477). A cash reward is being offered to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest of the person/persons responsible for this crime.