The search for Hailey Dunn has been a long march — a path through accusations that law enforcement had been too slow to react to her disappearance, to failed lie detector tests on the part of her mother and her mother’s live-in boyfriend. Helicopters have searched the skies while an endless stream of both the professional and the passionate walked the streets and searched the countryside below.
At Dunn’s home, located at 1804 Chestnut, family members and close friends have expressed an increasing — albeit cordial — reluctance to speak except certain national media, a noose that has seemingly tightened as time has worn on and more attention has been paid to the case.
Attempts to contact Billie Jean Dunn, Hailey Dunn’s mother, as well as her birth
father, Clint Dunn, for extended interviews were politely put off, as were attempts to contact the family of Billie Jean Dunn’s 25-year-old boyfriend, Shawn
Adkins, who is believed to be staying in Dunn, about 15 miles north of Colorado City, where Adkins’ grandmother lives.
Briefly speaking to media openly Thursday night after an appearance on HLN’s Nancy Grace, the girl’s mother admitted to frustration and fatigue, and a hope that — though not extinguished — had begun to gutter with the passage of each long day.
Others attempt to stay strong for Hailey, as well, whether they know her or not.
A citizen-led search Saturday, the second in as many days, combed parts of Mitchell County north and west, while law enforcement extended the search to the community of Dunn.
The small community is what a Texas Department of Public Safety news release issued Saturday called one of possibly several new staging areas as the search for Dunn continues and broadens in scope.
After addressing gathered volunteers with a bullhorn Saturday morning, Bubba Limones, 30, said that a vast number of the people gathered that day to look for
Dunn didn’t necessarily know the family personally. But they all wanted to see the girl returned safely.
“People here care,” he said. “People want to help.”
Like Limones, volunteer Woody Kidd, 57, does not know the Dunn family, but he planned to comb the stretch of the county devoted to Saturday’s search just the same.
“The people in Colorado City stick together, and that’s good,” Kidd said.
From the time neighbors reportedly saw Dunn using her mother’s cell phone around noon on the Monday she vanished to the present, a massive search has evolved that in time has focused national attention on Colorado City, located off U.S. Interstate 20 between Abilene and Odessa.
“We break down when we’re alone, my son and I both,” Billie Jean Dunn said, referring to Hailey’s 16-year-old brother, David. “Break down and lose it, and sometimes you feel like you’re never gain your composure. It’s tough to stay strong in front of my son, but I do it.”
Shawn Adkins, who reportedly said he came home around 3 p.m. Dec. 27, is, by official accounting the last person to see Dunn alive. She planned, he said, to walk to her father’s house, then spend the night with a friend, Mary Beth Garcia.
But Clint Dunn never saw her. And neither did Mary Beth, or her mother, Cecilia Garcia.
As far as she knew, Cecilia Garcia said earlier in the week, her daughter hadn’t even been in touch with Hailey the day she vanished.
Billie Jean Dunn reported her daughter missing the next day and initially, the case was treated as if the girl had run away. Later, that choice would come back to haunt the law enforcement, with some insisting that police and others waited too long to involve other law enforcement authorities or to accelerate the investigation.
“I’m really upset because I feel our police department is not doing their job,” said Magin Jones, 32, who has lived “more on than off” in Colorado City since she was 16. “I think 72 hours or two days to wait and call it a runaway is too long when it’s a 13-year-old little girl.”
A candlelight vigil last Sunday, attended by about 750 people, seemed to be the catalyst that began to vault the case into ever-widening public consciousness.
By Tuesday, HLN’s Grace featured the case, though the coverage was called “sensational” by City Manager Peter Kampfer.
Widely-distributed reports that dogs had traced Hailey Dunn’s scent to a Colorado City hotel Dec. 31 were diminished by Kampfer, who called them “inaccurate” and the scents attributable to “any number of things.”
In a further example of the confusion that has swirled around the investigation, Billie Jean Dunn and Adkins took polygraph tests Wednesday, saying during another appearance on Nancy Grace Thursday that both had “failed” the tests.
But on Friday, Kampfer said that the while Dunn and Adkins were polygraphed, neither were told whether they passed or failed. No matter what happened, Dunn apparently asked Adkins to leave her home after those results.
Law enforcement have said repeatedly they know his location, believed to be in nearby Dunn.
In a brief interview after Grace’s Thursday night program, the girl’s mother reiterated that she would never choose to protect “anybody,” including Adkins “if I thought he had anything to do with it.”
“I had put a lot of faith into those, and that faith is gone,” she said. I would have came forward a long time ago,” she said, though she added that she was convinced that the lie detector tests were destined to “clear everybody.”
On Thursday, a helicopter took to the air in an effort to find the missing girl. By
that point, there were 30 law enforcement officers, working for nine agencies, actively participating, said senior Department of Public Safety Trooper Sparky
Dean, while a “whole slew” of other agencies offered to help in other manners.
“To me it looks like an anthill,” Dean said the activity. “You’ve got people coming and going and chasing leads and coming back, saying, ‘This lead didn’t work, what’s next? Give me something else to do another lead to follow up on.’ There may be some they can sit down and do on the computer. There may be some they have to pound the pavement.”
That was the approach law enforcement agencies returned to Friday, a dozen groups of two each going to the north Colorado City neighborhood around Hailey’s home, conducting interviews and asking for assistance in locating her — and patently ignoring any other illegalities that they might come across to laser-focus on finding the missing 13-year-old.
At the same time, a group of residents, inspired by a Facebook group, took to the streets in the hope of locating the girl the group’s founder termed “a daughter, a sister, a friend and a child of God who has lost her way.”
The Lamar Sign Company, in the absence of the case meeting the requirements for an Amber Alert, donated more than a dozen digital billboards around the state to show Hailey Dunn’s face and description, with vinyl billboards also planned. Earlier in the week, standing among a throng of television and other media crews gathered across the street from the Dunn home, Kampfer described the search as “community-consuming.”
“Anything of a cooperative method or aspect that they (the community) can put
together, that’s what they’re trying to do,” he said, noting that police and other law enforcement officials, too, were “working diligently and all hours to get it right.”
Andra Maxwell, who teaches eighth-grade history at Colorado Middle School, was one of several people who eagerly stepped forward to praise that effort.
“I’m in full support of our local law enforcement agencies,” she said, adding that she believes national news coverage, especially, has added an unfairly negative spin to what has been happening in town.
“Nobody cares more or has worked long, hard hours than our local, small police department and our sheriff’s office,” she said, adding that many in town had been taking food to the impromptu command center created for law enforcement agencies downtown, since many officers wouldn’t otherwise even take the time to eat a meal.
In the downtown area, where errant cotton bolls bunch at the side of the streets
like drifts of snow, Deborah Wilson, realized her investment club meeting probably had been canceled Thursday when she saw the massive horde of police, sheriff’s department, and other vehicles gathered in front of the bank turned law enforcement center.
The sight, she said, heartened her, leaving her hopeful of Dunn’ safe return.
“Everybody’s pulled together,” she said of the effort.
Wilson said that she had lived in the community for 56 years and could not remember anything of the sort or scale happening in her lifetime.
“I think it’s touched everybody,” she said. ”I don’t know her, but she’s part of us. Everyone wants to find her. Everyone wants her to come home.”
Those who live near or otherwise know Hailey Dunn’s family paint a variety of portraits of her home life.
Betty Williams, 40, called the situation a “nightmare,” not just for herself, but for the Dunn family.
“It makes you uneasy, especially since it’s so close,” Williams said. “I never thought it would happen in little Colorado City.”
Williams, who said that she had known Billie Jean Dunn for about a year, admits she met the mother and her family in a perhaps less-than-ideal circumstance — a dog owned by the family had bitten one of her children.
“That’s how I got to know her,” she said.
But through such strange circumstances, she said, she found someone who was friendly, willing to “do anything” for her children, and someone she knows is genuinely heartbroken over the sudden disappearance of her daughter.
“If it’s the worst, her mom, she couldn’t take it,” she said. “She couldn’t take it when my son got bit … And this, I imagine she’s going crazy.”
In the meantime, Williams has had to explain to her younger children, ages 6 and 7, as best she can what has been happening. But her oldest child, she said, perhaps has the greatest burden because he understands what is wrong.
“He said, ‘Gee, mom, could that happen to me?’” she said. “And I said, ‘Yes, baby, it can.’ And so you teach them.”
Walking with her children through the streets of Colorado City, Magin Jones, 32, agreed, saying the disappearance was in certain respects confusing because of the smallness and closeness of the community, including what she knew about the Dunn family.
Jones said her husband used to work with Billie Jean Dunn’s father in the oil field, and she knew Hailey’s mother through the daughter of a mutual friend.
“They were a close family, even though the mom and the dad were separated,” Jones said. “As far as I know, they remained friends and stayed, for their children, civil. … From what I see on the outside, they all seem to get along just fine.”
Jones said that the size of the community makes it easy for people to notice new details, leaving her to speculate that anything especially anything out-of-the-ordinary should have been seen by others.
“You get this false sense of a security in a small town thinking that because you live in a small town that something like this couldn’t happen. But look: it did,” she said. “It’s really sad that something like this could put our small town on the map like that.”
Her family, including her children ages 8, 10-going-on-11, and 12, are all praying for Dunn’s return, she said.
“What parent wouldn’t want that child to come home, because we would all want to think our own child would come home,” she said.
Cecilia Garcia said she had never interacted with Dunn’s extended family.
The first time she saw Hailey’s mother was on television, she said. And Hailey never had spent the night at friend’s her house, even though two were close friends.
Mary Beth Garcia, her mother said, had visited the Dunns’ home overnight.
“My daughter, I let her visit her and spend the night,” she said. “And the last time I did, I didn’t like it, because I heard they were walking the street with other kids”
Garcia said she never let her daughter spend the night at the home again.
Later, she said that her daughter told her that Dunn had expressed a desire to move in with her birth father, which Garcia said her daughter indicated led to a family altercation around Christmastime.
Donna Byerley met Hailey her through Byerley’s boyfriend, who had once dated a relative of Billie Jean Dunn. She described the girl’s home life as “volatile at times.”
Byerley characterized the 13-year-old as not getting along with her mother’s boyfriend, and Hailey herself as always wandering “here and there,” coming and going largely “as she pleases.”
But rather than a little girl lost, Byerley painted a picture of a compassionate person, whether it was taking care of a mutual friend of a family pet, a girl who remained “very much an individual,” with an honest style of communication whether talking about school, family or friends.
Dunn has stayed with Byerley and her boyfriend off and on, including the last two weeks of the previous school year, Byerley said.
“That was the school year that I think she started in Colorado City, went to Snyder a month or so, and then back to Colorado City,” she said.
“The last few weeks, perhaps month, she was living with her Dad because she doesn’t like the boyfriend,” Byerley said, referring to Adkins.
Her mother’s new relationship, and worries that it was preventing her parents from being together, served as a partial catalyst for Hailey’s difficulties with Adkins, Byerley said.
Billie Jean Dunn said she met on the social network site MySpace.
“I know he yelled at her,” she said of Hailey’s relationship with Adkins, though she said she knew of no accusations of physical or other abuse.
In public statements, Billie Jean Dunn has said that while Hailey initially had issues with Adkins, she had warmed to him as time went on.
Similarly, Byerley said Clint and Billie Jean Dunn’s relationship often was rocky.
“They’ve always had blowouts — screaming, yelling,” she said.
A search of website publicdata.com reveals no criminal histories for Billie Jean Dunn or for Shawn Adkins. Clint Dunn, however, has multiple arrests, starting in 1994 for burglary of a building, a state jail felony. Following that are subsequent arrests in 1998 for possession of marijuana, under 2 ounces, one in March 1999 for driving with a suspended license.
He was arrested again Jan. 30, 2010, by Snyder police for possession of marijuana under 2 ounces. And he was arrested at his home Dec. 29, again for possession of marijuana under 2 ounces, and a Scurry County warrant.
In 2008, Billie Jean Dunn’s license to practice nursing in the state was revoked by the Texas Board of Nursing. According to the group’s formal charges, Dunn practiced as a vocational nurse without a license from June 1, 2007, to April 20, 2008, while employed at Cogdell Memorial Hospital in Snyder. Board records indicate her license expired May 31, 2007.
Dunn’s conduct “deceived residents, their families, fellow caregivers and the public,” who believed that her practice of nursing was in compliance with the board’s rules and regulations, according to the board’s findings. Dunn was, according to the board, given an opportunity to show compliance with state law to retain her license.
The case was heard in an open meeting in Austin on Nov. 12, 2008. Dunn did not appear, the record says.
According to tax records, the Dunns still collectively own their home at 1804 Chestnut, which they purchased in November 2001. Clinton Dunn owned 1143 Chestnut until 2008.
OUT OF CHARACTER
As for Hailey herself, Byerley characterized the teenage as open, honest, smart “not just academically but street-smart,” and the sort to run toward help, rather than away.
“It’s extremely out of character,” she said of the girl’s disappearance. “She would go to a friend’s house. She would come to our house. She’s done it so many times before. … I hope she does it again.”
But Byerley said she doesn’t think Hailey is in town.
“Someone would have seen her,” she said.
Andra Maxwell, who teaches eighth grade history, and Tammy Johnson, who taught
Hailey reading, remember no warning signs. What they do recall is a vivacious, perpetually smiling teenager, a good student who worked hard, loved to pitch in, and took care of her business in the classroom.
“There was no change in her normal demeanor, her friends, her behavior, anything,” said Johnson, speaking of Hailey Dunn before her disappearance.
Hailey’s fellow students, the women said, were taking in the disappearance in their own way.
“It’s not the normal junior high antics going on,” Johnson said of her classroom. “As far as in the classroom, I think for most the routine is comforting. They know it’s something they can count on. It’s security.”
Johnson said that teachers, as a united front, are not engaging in open speculation with students about what happened. There is no effort to rearrange classrooms, and so far structure is being maintained that anticipates Hailey’s return.
But one thing that they do know is that the Hailey, the one who tells Maxwell with an intense sincerity each day that she loves her, would be unlikely simply run away from problems — or probably, anyone at all.
“They’d have to be pretty stout,” Maxwell said. “She’s a sweet little girl, but she was always very tough. If she needed, to she could probably take half the boys in this school. I’d want her on my side.”
Danny Galey, who teaches automotive tech at Colorado High School, remembers when the Dunns were his neighbors.
“The little girl, I can remember when she was just a little baby,” Galey, 65, said.
He recalls letting her use his sidewalk for her tricycle, since their home didn’t have one in front.
“Everyone is just praying to God that we find her alive,” he said, looking across the street at the school.
Overhead, small clouds bring in another wintry chill to what had been a fairly warm day.
“That’s what everybody is hoping and praying for,” he said. “That’s what we want.”