Twenty years ago, the nightmare and mystery began for Erica Baker’s family.
On the rainy Sunday afternoon of Feb. 7, 1999, the Kettering 9-year-old left home to walk the family dog near the city’s recreation center.
The dog was found, but Erica never returned.
“It’s been a long 20 years; she would be almost 30 years old. Our family has been through hell and high water through this whole ordeal,” said Greg Baker, Erica’s father.
There have been tips, multiple searches and the conviction, sentencing and release of a man who said he drove the van that struck and killed Erica.
Erica’s body has never been recovered.
Kettering police, who planned a commemorative social media post for Thursday, are still working the case.
“I’m reading through the entire case file,” Kettering police Det. Vince Mason said of three huge boxes. “There are a lot of little nooks and crannies to dig through and that’s what I’m working on. …
“My whole goal is just to bring her home.”
Baker said he knows search team members still hope to find Erica and that he is “forever grateful” to the public and media for their help in “keeping Erica out there.”
A new law goes into effect this year that marks May 25 as Ohio National Missing Children’s Day, mirroring the national and international decree for that day.
“It’s a uniting thing for all the parents that have missing children. It gives them a day of recognition in the state of Ohio,” Baker said in 2017. “I thought it was very important for them so that they know that all their loved ones are not forgotten.”
PHOTOS: Erica Baker case
State Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London, introduced the bill that became law.
“A child gone missing is every parent’s worst nightmare turned into reality,” Hackett said in 2017. “We want to reassure families that we join them in their resolve to bring their child home, no matter how much time has passed. We owe it to these families to do all we can to inform the public and support efforts to find their missing children.”
Christian Gabriel served six years in prison for gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence after confessing to driving the van that struck Erica near the intersection of Glengarry Drive and Powhattan in Kettering.
Because Gabriel and passenger Jan Franks had criminal records, Gabriel has said he put Erica inside the van and took off instead of calling for help.
Gabriel has pointed investigators to some locations where nothing has been found, but after being released from prison in 2011, Gabriel hasn’t given any other clues. Franks died of a drug overdose in 2001.
Erica’s father, mother Melissa, three older brothers and other relatives have pleaded for Gabriel to come clean. Greg Baker said Wednesday: “Christian Gabriel needs to know that we’re not stopping.”
Mason — who recently took over the case but has been involved with it for about eight years — said he thinks Gabriel lives out of state and that anyone with information can call (937) 296-2583.
“If the chance to prosecute anybody for anything ever comes up, that’s the way it is,” Mason said. “When it comes to Erica, I’m reading everything I can and I’m willing to listen to anybody that wants to talk to me. But my goal is just to bring her home.”
MORE FROM THIS REPORTER: Read other stories by Mark Gokavi