Elizabeth Cook: Many questions remain in Parsons case

  • Posted: Sunday, August 18, 2013 2:09 p.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 2:52 p.m.
Erica Parsons
Erica Parsons

Erica Parsons, please come home. Come home to Rowan County.

Last seen in late 2011, Erica was reported missing just a few weeks ago.

While public speculation gallops toward the conclusion that the petite 15-year-old has fallen victim to foul play, anything can happen.

If Erica is out there somewhere, afraid to return to the home where relatives say she was emotionally and physically abused — according to investigators’ affidavits — she should know that an entire county is devoted to making sure she lands in a safe place.

Make that an entire region, state and nation.

Erica’s story is so compelling that it has even hit the website of a British paper, Daily Mail.

I have mixed feelings about the fact that the Erica Parsons story has passed from missing-persons report to crime news to “crimertainment.” When HLN network’s Nancy Grace comes to call — or asks for a phone interview with a Post reporter, at least — the case in question takes on a tabloid quality.

People talk about parallels with the cases of Caylee Anthony and Zahra Baker, other missing children found dead in recent years. In both cases, family members were prosecuted, one infamously acquitted.

Adoptive parents Sandy and Casey Parsons say they believe Erica is still alive, and their appearance on an upcoming “Dr. Phil” show is an opportunity to expand the search for her nationwide.

If you can forget they went nearly two years without looking for Erica — and probably would not have started if their son hadn’t gone to authorities — the “Dr. Phil” rationale sounds good.

Overlook the fact that they continued to cash state checks intended for Erica’s care, and the “rebellious teen” story might ring true with parents who have traveled that rocky path. In moments of anger and emotion, kids walk out.

But not for two years.

This is developing into one of those stranger-than-fiction stories. “Law and Order” logic says the search for a living, breathing Erica is a fairy tale. But “Law and Order” is not real life, and “CSI Salisbury” would not resemble the shows you see on TV.

Anything can happen.

The Department of Social Services has strict rules about confidentiality, prohibited at the moment from telling us anything officials there know about Erica’s case.

We know from the investigation that the Parsonses are not your typical nuclear family. Sandy and Casey were Erica’s aunt and uncle when they adopted her.

The state pays adoption assistance to families in qualifying cases, an amount adjusted depending on the child’s age. I do not know what the Parsonses received, but a state website says most Departments of Social Services pay $634 a month for children between the ages of 13 and 18.

Erica was 13 the last time anyone here saw her.

The Parsonses have left an interesting trail on the Internet. The site for a hospital in Rio Bravo, Mexico, has Casey’s glowing report about how her life unfolded after a tubal ligation reversal performed there in 2003 — two more children.

(That all came about after she served as a gestational surrogate for an out-of-state couple.)

The site for their business, Parson’s Kennel, promises first-class care for the miniature dachshunds, pugs and hedgehogs they raise and sell.

“We raise all our pets ‘under foot,’ ” the site says. “This means they live with us in our home and are never caged-kept. We limit our pets that we own so we can give proper TLC to each animal. They deserve only the best! Our pets mean the world to us!”

That’s quite a contrast to the care Erica allegedly received, if you believe the family members cited in search warrant affidavits. Bruised, isolated, always being disciplined, the child described in those affidavits was the bane of Casey’s existence. Erica’s primary caretaker couldn’t stand the sight of her, according to one relative.

But the animals?

“They deserve only the best. Our pets mean the world to us!”

Carlyle Sherrill, the Parsonses’ attorney, says he puts no trust in the affidavits. People will say anything to get a search warrant, he says.

Other than their attorney, though, no one has come forward to defend the Parsonses, to refute the affidavits and describe how lovingly the couple cared for Erica.

Children deserve unconditional love and vigilant care. They should feel their parents’ protective embrace, physically and emotionally.

Children should know in their bones that, if they went missing or ran away, their parents would search for them relentlessly.

Come home, Erica Parsons. There are people here who care about you. Prove our worst suspicions wrong. Please come home.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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