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Lauren Spierer case: A family’s pain, measured in Januarys and Junes without an answer

A decade after she vanished into the Indiana night, Lauren Spierer’s parents hope to learn what happened to the sophomore from Edgemont.

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A decade after she vanished into the Indiana night, Lauren Spierer’s parents hope to learn what happened to the sophomore from Edgemont.

Published Updated

Ten years after Lauren Spierer vanished into the Indiana night, Rob and Charlene Spierer continue to mark their lives in Junes and Januarys.

January is when their daughter was born. June is when they lost her. 

All the days in between are when they wonder if they’ll ever learn what happened to their vivacious 20-year-old.

Lauren Spierer was last seen at about 4:30 a.m., June 3, 2011, after a night partying with friends at Indiana University, where the diminutive Edgemont High School graduate from Scarsdale was a sophomore studying fashion merchandising.

The Spierers flew to Indiana — Rob from New York, Charlene from Alabama, where she was visiting family — to join the search for the 4-foot-11, 95-pound blond girl with the infectious smile. At one point, the distraught parents combed the Bloomington woods, yelling their daughter’s name.

Friends and classmates from Edgemont drove the 13 hours to Indiana to join the search. “It’s what she’d do if we were missing,” they said.

In those first days and hours, the Spierers and the searchers lived on one thought: hoping today is the day.

Robert and Charlene Spierer on May 20, 2013, nearly two years after their daughter, Lauren Spierer, a student at Indiana University, was last seen.
Robert and Charlene Spierer on May 20, 2013, nearly two years after their daughter, Lauren Spierer, a student at Indiana University, was last seen.
Seth Harrison/The Journal News

It’s the mantra that motivated their every move. If they just looked in the right place, talked to the right person, asked the right question, gave the right media interview, Lauren would be restored to them, with her own story to tell.

The Spierers sought any outlet that could amplify their daughter’s case. "America's Most Wanted" did a segment. There were newspaper stories and television interviews. Charlene learned to look into the camera lens, not the eyes of the person interviewing her.

She learned the details of Lauren's last night to the point where she could recite them quickly. She would tell the story often, to whoever would listen, hoping for one result.

Help us bring our girl home.

This year, 10 Junes later, the Spierers are declining interview requests. 

In a note to USA Today Network New York in May, Charlene Spierer wrote: “At this point, we have decided to not do interviews. We appreciate your interest, understanding and your support. Hoping you are well. Thank you.”

But over the years, the Spierers have shared their journey since the first phone call that signaled the crashing end to the life they knew with Lauren. Revisiting their story, what they've said to the media and on Facebook, offers a window into a family tragedy that, 10 years later, is no closer to an end.

Marking Lauren Spierer’s lost Januarys

After Lauren vanished, Rob and Charlene stayed in Indiana for six months, searching, talking, hanging posters and spreading Lauren's story. Twitter, which was new at the time, got a new account, @NewsOnLaurenS, where tips were sought and news was shared.

Social media specialist Kristin Goetterman was moved to help when she saw a video of Rob and Charlene in those Bloomington woods.

She joined the search, tweeted press conferences and became a member of the Find Lauren team, a member of the Spierer family by extension of a tragic event.

The Twitter account is still active a decade later, with a pinned tweet from July 24, 2020, reading: "Daughters shouldn’t go off to college and then disappear. People also don’t just vanish. How did Lauren?” #MISSINGPERSON @IUHoosiers #findlauren #sister #daughter #friend"

There is a website — www.findlauren.com — still soliciting tips, no matter how small.

A different sort of hope has emerged, one that has evolved in regular posts on the Facebook page set up for news on the case: The Official Lauren Spierer Updates from Her Family

The page is a window into the family's grief, its anger, and its unflagging love for their daughter and sister. On it, the family tallies too many Junes and Januarys without answers.

Most New Year’s Days arrive with a post marking the hope of a new year, as on Jan. 1, 2019: "Wishing all who have been with us these many years in our search for Lauren, a happy and healthy 2019. Hoping this is Lauren’s year."

Five years earlier: “We are hopeful 2014 will be Lauren’s year.”

Robert and Charlene Spierer rushed to Indiana to join the search for their 20-year-old daughter, who vanished on June 3, 2011. Robert shows the last image of Lauren, taken from a surveillance camera in her apartment building as she headed out to meet friends on what would be the last night she was seen.
Robert and Charlene Spierer rushed to Indiana to join the search for their 20-year-old daughter, who vanished on June 3, 2011. Robert shows the last image of Lauren, taken from a surveillance camera in her apartment building as she headed out to meet friends on what would be the last night she was seen.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Every year, another Jan. 17

Every Jan. 17, it's Lauren's birthday. Nearly every year, they mark it with a Facebook post. 

When she turned 21, the post included these words: Remembering today, 21 years ago, as one of the happiest days in our lives. Happy Birthday, Lauren. We love you with all our hearts, Mom, Dad and Rebecca.

The following year: 22 years ago today, we were given the gift of another precious daughter. ... There will be no gifts mailed to Bloomington, no cake, no candles, no excited anticipation as the celebration of one so loved approaches. We are left only with the gifts the person responsible for Lauren’s disappearance has given our family, despair, heartache and loss. ... On June 3, 2011, a set of parents was born; unwavering in our desire to find our daughter and see that justice is served for a life ended too early. ... Thankful for the time we had, proud of the person you became, forever in our hearts, we love you, Lauren. Mom and Dad

23:  Wherever you are, sweet girl, you are loved and missed beyond measure. Mom, Dad and Rebecca.

24: Today we will try our best to focus on the joy and love her existence brought to our world and not on the pain and suffering we've lived through since her disappearance. Happy birthday, dear sweet Lauren. We love you to the moon and back. Forever in our hearts, always loved. Mom and Dad.

25: Happy birthday, dear sweet, Lauren. Missed every second of every day. Always in our hearts forever loved. Mom, Dad and Rebecca.

26: 1.17.17 Happy birthday, Sweet Lauren.

27: Thinking of you, especially today, your birthday.  Always in our hearts, always loved. Mom, Dad and Rebecca.

28: I miss you with every breath, but I miss you especially today, Lauren. Happy birthday sweet girl. Love, Mom.

And this year, on Lauren's 30th birthday: Lauren would have been 30 today. If only.... 

There was no post when she turned 29. But a month later, on Feb. 10, 2020, arrived this post from Charlene, a different "today is the day" post, one that shows the pain hadn't subsided, after nearly nine years:

Today is the day. I think I can start going through Lauren's things. It's over eight years. I go into her room. There are all the boxes, standing at attention as if soldiers guarding her memories. I step in, I open the first box filled with clothes, each a reminder of a time I saw Lauren wear one of the shirts, a pair of pants, a skirt. A time of life, happiness, joy. I close the box I leave the room. Today is not the day.

Lauren Spierer archive: Joining the search
In an archived 2012 video, faculty and staff at Indiana University in Bloomington speak about the search for Lauren Spierer.
Rockland/Westchester Journal News

A different ‘today is the day’

"Today is the day” has changed to mean different things over the years. While the faintest glimmer of hope always remains that — barring proof to the contrary — Lauren lives, most of their hope rests in the possibility that today is the day the person who knows what happened to her will step forward.

And every year has a June 3.

In 2019, eight years after Lauren disappeared, Charlene wrote: "As every June 3rd approaches, I am faced with the dread of reliving all the horrific minutes of that day and the days which followed. I now know of course, despite how desperately I wanted to believe the words 'we will find her,' it just wasn’t meant to be."

"The not knowing is almost unbearable," she wrote, but something propels the family forward.

Lauren Spierer with her parents, Charlene and Robert. By all accounts, Lauren loved being an Indiana Hoosier, studying fashion merchandising. Her parents have kept up a social-media campaign of remembrance, still seeking answers in Lauren's disappearance 10 years ago.
Lauren Spierer with her parents, Charlene and Robert. By all accounts, Lauren loved being an Indiana Hoosier, studying fashion merchandising. Her parents have kept up a social-media campaign of remembrance, still seeking answers in Lauren's disappearance 10 years ago.
Handout

"Of course, it is hope," she wrote. "Hope that today someone will have the courage to tell the truth or send an email or make a call or post a lead on social media. We still have a PO box in Bloomington, just waiting to receive a letter with words which will lead us to the truth. It remains unfilled."

Hope is hope, even when it is altered.

"Our desire to bring Lauren home whether literally or figuratively is a strong motivator," Charlene wrote in that 2019 post, before changing her focus.

"To those responsible, you’ve moved on, but we have not," she wrote. "We will never give up. I have to believe that someday you will let your guard down. You will need to share your truth and it will just be too big for the person you’ve told to keep it to themselves. That is what we hope for."

‘Top 5 Most Mysterious Unsolved Disappearance’ 

Lauren has become a bold-face name — LAUREN SPIERER — the focus of cold-case TV shows and “America’s Most Wanted” and People Magazine stories. ABC’s “20/20” aired an hour-long episode titled: “Looking for Lauren.” Rob and Charlene sat down with Katie Couric.

TIME Magazine listed Lauren among the “Top 5 Most Mysterious Unsolved Disappearances of All Time,” alongside hijacker D.B. Cooper, pilot Amelia Earhart, union boss Jimmy Hoffa and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished in mid-air with 200 people on board on March 8, 2014.

Lauren's case inspired self-defense sessions and projects to improve campus safety and YouTube tributes and birthday videos on YouTube.

Awareness campaigns stretched from Westchester to Bloomington, to the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. Her Scarsdale Synagogue held a "Bike/Walk for Lauren" on the Bronx River Parkway.

Months after she vanished, runners at the IU Mini Marathon wore pale blue T-shirts with “Where is She?” on the front and the website and tipline number on the back. Girls at a Chicago airport were spotted wearing pale blue bracelets to honor Lauren, whom they’d never met.

Charlene and Robert Spierer wear "Find Lauren" wristbands while speaking to reporters on Aug. 16, 2011, in Bloomington, Ind. The Spierers lived on the hope that "today is the day," but what it is "the day for" has changed over the years. At first, it was that Lauren would be restored to them. Now, it's that they find out what happened to the 20-year-old all those Junes ago.
Charlene and Robert Spierer wear "Find Lauren" wristbands while speaking to reporters on Aug. 16, 2011, in Bloomington, Ind. The Spierers lived on the hope that "today is the day," but what it is "the day for" has changed over the years. At first, it was that Lauren would be restored to them. Now, it's that they find out what happened to the 20-year-old all those Junes ago.
Aaron Bernstein

There was a lacrosse tournament and a 5K run and a trunk sale and a coffee fund-raiser and a "Shine 4 Lauren" concert, and bracelets and posters.

There was even a song “One Little Miracle,” by Brice Fox and Daniel Weber, released four months after Lauren vanished.

But even as she shared her daughter's story as wide as she could in the hopes of her return, Charlene tried to check Lauren's newfound status, to remind the world that she was flesh and blood, a daughter, a sister, a friend.

"She is more than a face on a poster," she insisted, in a post 50 days after Lauren vanished.

Flyers with information about missing Indiana University sophomore Lauren Spierer, including some printed in Spanish, await distribution outside Smallwood Plaza in Bloomington, Ind.,  June 10, 2011.
Flyers with information about missing Indiana University sophomore Lauren Spierer, including some printed in Spanish, await distribution outside Smallwood Plaza in Bloomington, Ind., June 10, 2011.
Aaron P. Bernstein/The Journal News

‘To whom this may concern’

The Spierers were buoyed by friends and strangers whose kindness saw them through "many of our darkest days."

"While thank you hardly seems adequate, please know we are grateful beyond measure," they posted.

They often express their thanks to everyone for stepping up, but what they really want — as seen in post after post — is for the right person to step forward.

Three months after the disappearance, on Sept. 3, 2011 — which, Charlene pointed out, was her birthday — she introduced herself to the person responsible for Lauren's disappearance, in a post addressed "To whom this may concern."

"You know where she is," she wrote. "You are guilty of a heinous crime."

The first hours of 10 years

Then, hoping the person who knew what had happened to her daughter would read it and be moved to confess, Charlene Spierer, on her birthday, shared with the world her nightmare, what happened when Rob called with the news. He was home in New York. Charlene was in Alabama visiting family.

She's missing.

As she put the phone down, she began to feel a physical ache, as if she'd be sick. Her heart beat out of her chest and the pounding took up residence in her head.

Am I breathing?

She had to sit but wanted to run. To the car. To the airport. To Indiana. To Lauren.

She was speechless, but she had no time to be stricken silent; there were too many questions.

This can't be happening.

She picked up the phone. Police. Airline. Minutes on hold, each moment agony.

She wanted her phone to ring, for someone to say it was all a mistake, that Lauren's fine. She missed an incoming call from a blocked phone number and her heart sank.

"You think you’ve missed the one call that can lead you to the discovery of your daughter."

More calls. To Indiana hospitals. Every Indiana hospital. 

No Lauren Spierer. No Jane Does in any emergency rooms.

Those are just her first hours of living with Lauren missing, Charlene wrote.

The first hours of what has become 10 years of Junes and Januarys and every long moment in between.

Reach Peter D. Kramer at pkramer@lohud.com or on Twitter at @PeterKramer. Read his latest stories. Please follow the link on the page below and become a backer of this kind of coverage. It only works with you as a subscriber.

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