The search for a missing toddler in Tacoma continues nearly 24 years later
By Justin Gamble and Rikki Klaus, CNNUpdated: Tue, 06 Dec 2022 15:26:08 GMTSource: CNNTheresa Czapieski couldn't hold back tears when police in Tacoma, Washington, showed her what her daughter coBy Justin Gamble and Rikki Klaus, CNN
Updated: Tue, 06 Dec 2022 15:26:08 GMT
Theresa Czapieski couldn't hold back tears when police in Tacoma, Washington, showed her what her daughter could look like today. She has not stopped searching for the then-2-year-old Teekah Lewis since 1999.
"I'm not giving up until my daughter is found," Czapieski told CNN.
Tacoma police released an age progression photo of Teekah last week in the hopes of solving one of the area's oldest missing children's cases.
Teekah was last seen in the video game area at the New Frontier Lanes bowling alley on the night of January 23, 1999. Czapieski said Teekah was a "mama's girl." The toddler had been next to her until it was Czapieski's turn to bowl. She then asked her brother and then-boyfriend to keep an eye on the toddler. When Czapieski turned around to check on her daughter, she was gone.
"They said they didn't see nothing, so whoever took her, took her within seconds." Czapieski told CNN.
Police say no one remembers seeing the toddler leave the building. That night, Czapieski says, the bowling alley was packed, and hundreds of people could have been there.
Czapieski previously visited the bowling alley with some of her children and thought it was a safe place to take Teekah in an outing with other family members, she said.
Tacoma Police Detective Julie Dier said Teekah's disappearance has been "a big mystery."
"At this point, we don't have any evidence, any physical evidence. We have no body. And while that remains the case, there is always a chance that she is still somewhere out there," Dier told CNN on Monday. "It's a big mystery."
When the toddler disappeared in 1999, Dier said police went to great lengths to find her, mowing down a wetland and using search dogs. Investigators have received numerous tips since Teekah went missing, but none have ever led to a suspect, police said.
Now, they're asking the public for information about a late 1980s or early 1990s maroon or purple Pontiac that a witness says fishtailed while speeding from the bowling alley parking lot, moments before announcements of Teekah's disappearance were made inside the building.
Dier said investigators are hoping the release of the age progression photo and calls for information about Teekah's disappearance result in someone who may have seen something contacting police.
It is still a possibility that Teekah is alive and doesn't know she was a kidnapping victim, police said.
The composite showing how Teekah might currently look was created by the Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) Laboratory at Louisiana State University, which offers forensic anthropology services to law enforcement and coroner's offices.
Larry Livaudais, an imaging specialist at the lab, told CNN it took him about three weeks to create the age progression image. He referenced about four dozen photos of Teekah's mother, father and siblings, alongside images of Teekah herself, to get a possible image of what she would look like in 2022.
"It really is an artistic creation, but it is based upon scientific knowledge of facial growth patterns and morphological changes that take place in the face," Livaudais said, adding that he built cognitive triggers into the image that are designed to spur recognition and memory in people who know might know Teekah.
Czapieski says she hopes her daughter, who would be in her mid-20s, has so far lived a good life. She likes to imagine that Teekah played sports in high school, graduated and went on to college, the mother said.
"If she's out there and she sees this, know you have five sisters that want to meet you. You have a mom and (an) enormous number of aunts and uncles that are just waiting for you to come home. We know it's been almost 24 years, and I'm sure you don't know this but we want to know you. We want to bring you home, because I've never given up on you," Czapieski said. "I will not stop looking for you until you're found."
The Tacoma Police Department is asking anyone with information about the case to contact call the Crime Stoppers of Tacoma-Pierce County at 1-800-222-TIPS. Police are also offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to arrest and charges in the case.