Where in the world is Dail Dinwiddie?
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Twenty-five years ago on Sept. 24, 1992, Dail Boxley Dinwiddie vanished.
Phffft. Just like that.
She was 23, a darling girl, anyone would say. Because even though she was, by age, a young woman, she was just 5 feet tall and weighed only about 100 pounds. She was a waif, an imp, a sweet spirit and an artist, who had come home after finishing college at Randolph-Macon to live with her parents, pursue graduate studies at the University of South Carolina -- and, it turned out, to be my youngest son's full-time babysitter.
Invariably, when I'd come home from work, I'd hear the tinkling sound of her laughter down the hall where she and John, then 8, were playing. The last time I saw her, she had brought John a miniature aquarium filled with sea monkeys.
The call from her mother, Jean Dinwiddie, came early in the morning. Dail hadn't come home from a U2 concert the night before. Jean wanted to make sure I was at the bus stop where Dail met my son every day after school.
It took but a second for my eyes to begin burning. I knew in that instant that something terrible had happened because, above all, Dail was responsible and would never leave her little charge unattended. What we eventually learned was that after the concert, Dail and a group of friends had gone to the Five Points area of town where university students traditionally have kept the midnight oil burning. Dail was last seen at about 1:30 a.m. by a bouncer at a now-defunct bar called Jungle Jim's, when she left to go search for her friends.
Shortly after Jean's call, I went to my office, which was located in a public relations firm run by Charles "Bud" Ferillo, a former Democratic officeholder and now the head of USC's race and reconciliation program. I told Ferillo what had happened, whereupon he offered up his office, his phones and his staff. By afternoon, 20 or so high school and college volunteers had filled the hallways. Within hours, we had tacked up "Missing" posters all over town.
By week's end, we had a building donated by a local law firm to use as a command center, Dail's parents on "Good Morning America," and posters in every state, thanks to a veteran Red Cross volunteer who strode into our new digs one morning carrying a bulging briefcase. Skipping formalities, he solemnly stated: "I need a desk, a map, and a telephone."
Finally, someone who knew what he was doing. The rest of us were simultaneously paralyzed by shock and racing on adrenaline -- working long hours, re-enacting the night Dail disappeared with her same group of friends, following each step while police investigators kept a close eye out for possible clues.