Hope, determination at candlelight vigil for missing teen Erica Parsons
SALISBURY — As the bells struck 7 o’clock, friends and neighbors closed ranks on the steps of the Rowan County Courthouse.
It was raining steadily, but that didn’t matter. Holding candles, they prayed, listened and sang.
Over 100 people from across Rowan County, of all ages and races, gathered at the courthouse, then along South Main Street, in solidarity for missing Salisbury teenager Erica Parsons.
Reported missing on July 30, Erica Parsons was reportedly last seen in November 2011. She was 13 years old at the time.
In the weeks since, many locals have reacted with shock and anger at the circumstances of Erica Parsons’ disappearance, especially the actions of Erica’s adoptive parents, Sandy and Casey Parsons.
But vigil organizer John Merry said the purpose of the rally was not to point fingers.
Originally announced on Facebook two weeks ago, the vigil for Erica Parsons was first scheduled for August 25.
It was moved to Sunday once Merry learned a permit was required for a gathering of this size.
“People genuinely care for Erica and want answers,” Merry said as the crowd gathered.
He said that he and other organizers have no personal connection to the Parsons family or to the case, but felt that “something needed to be done.”
“I hope that she’s found,” John Merry said. “As a parent, that’s what I want to see, for her to be found safe and happy.”
Just before 7 o’clock, Carolyn Parsons arrived at the courthouse.
According to media reports, Carolyn Parsons has said she gave her daughter to Sandy and Casey when Erica was a few months old.
With supporters holding lit candles and signs behind her, and a row of television cameras in front, Carolyn Parsons spoke directly to Erica, in hopes she might hear:
“I know I wasn’t there to raise you ... I have always cared for you,” Carolyn Parsons said.
She urged Erica, if she could hear, to let people know where she was.
“I got this, big sister’s got this,” Carolyn Parsons said, speaking into the cameras and motioning to her other daughter, who did not speak.
“Call somebody, e-mail somebody, Facebook somebody,” Carolyn Parsons urged.
Speaking to the crowd and the media, she said: “This is not about me, not about my children, not about her adoptive parents.
Instead, Carolyn Parsons said, the focus should be on finding out the truth.
Erica’s biological mother also said she has spoken to the office of Governor Pat McCrory, and intends to push for legislation requiring more oversight of home-schooled students.
According to media reports, State of North Carolina officials said they only had one document regarding Erica Parsons, who was being home-schooled.
Carolyn Parsons urged the audience to support a push for more oversight of home-schooling parents.
The Rev. Fred Merry, pastor of Fruit of the Spirit Ministries of Concord and father of organizer John Merry, spoke at length about hopes for Erica’s safe return, and about the responsibilities of all parents.
Although he did not make any allegations about the Erica Parsons case, Fred Merry said that the community has a responsibility to speak out when they see evidence of abuse or neglect.
“We’ve got a child who’s missing,” Fred Merry said. “My spirit wants to tell me one thing, but my flesh is telling me another.”
Still, Fred Merry said, he hopes and prays Erica Parsons will be found alive and well.
And the pastor said he wasn’t there to “bash” Sandy and Casey Parsons.
“In reality,” Fred Merry said, “if you believe in Jesus Christ, you should be praying for them.”
Fred Merry spoke frankly of his belief that Christian values would strengthen communities, and charged parents to be more responsible and more demanding of their children.
“We are the voice of our children. If we don’t stand up for them, who’s going to stand up?” Fred Merry said.
The pastor urged those at the rally, and the news media, to continue pressing for answers.
“Let’s get this across the nation,” Fred Merry said. “… Somebody knows where (Erica) is at. The family needs closure. ... Somebody has seen her.”
After praying and singing “Amazing Grace,” the crowd then moved the luminaries to the curb along North Main Street.
They gathered in small knots to talk, to pray and to stand in solidarity for Erica.
There was a mix of emotions, and opinions, among those gathered.
Tasha Herion, of Salisbury, brought her family. She said they live “about two minutes” from the home of Sandy and Casey Parsons.
“It’s hard, you know, with everything happening,” Herion said.
After two years, Herion said, “you wish she would return. I hope she’ll return, somewhere out there.”
Melissa Swink, of Salisbury, said she was suspicious of Sandy and Casey Parsons’ actions in the weeks since Erica was reported missing.
Especially, Swink said, the fact that they packed a moving van and reportedly left Salisbury for Fayetteville on August 27.
“I think justice needs to be served,” Swink said.
Gladys and Bo Culp, who live outside of Faith, said they felt it was important to be there.
Asked what they feel happened to Erica, Gladys said, “I don’t know. We just want her found.”
“I think Rowan County is letting them know that we want Erica found, and that we won’t forget, and that we won’t go away,” Gladys said.
Daniel and Emilie Haas brought their children, Sara and Dylan, to the vigil.
“Wondering if she’s safe, if she’s still alive,” Daniel Haas said. “Praying that she’s still alive and will be able to come back to Salisbury with her family and friends.”
“I’m hoping nothing like that ever happens to my kids,” said Emilie Haas. “I’m really protective of them I can’t imagine how I would feel if that happened to them.”
In her remarks to the crowd, an emotional Kristina Parker, John Merry’s girlfriend, said those sorts of suspicions don’t matter.
“Everybody has their opinion, which is really irrelevant,” Parker said.
Breaking into tears, Parker said she simply hopes Erica will be found.
Carolyn Parsons ended her remarks to the media with another plea for anybody with information on her daughter’s disappearance to come forward.
“This little kid went missing at 13 years old ... Somebody’s seen something,” Carolyn Parsons said.
“This is not for me, this is not about me, this is about this little girl who’s on this t-shirt,” Carolyn Parsons said. “She’s a very missed and very loved child, and that’s what she needs to hear.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.