07/16/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT
Sylvia Henry would do anything in a mother's power to trade away the hours after night falls. "I sleep for about four hours, then I wake up and start thinking about her," she says. "I start praying and crying and trying to make it through the night."
On the evening of May 29 her daughter Stepha, 22, vacationing with her 16-year-old sister in Miami, left for a nightclub with an acquaintance and never returned. Earlier that night Stepha, who was staying with her aunt Carletha Clarke, "was putting on her makeup in the bathroom while I stood talking with her," says Clarke. "On the way out I said, 'I'm watching you like your Mommy!' And she said, 'I know!'"
Stepha, a vivacious honors graduate of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice who hoped to go on to law school, was picked up in a dark four-door car by an acquaintance who, says her family, drove her to a cookout earlier that day. According to police, she was spotted on a videotape at Pepper's Cafe, a reggae club in Sunrise, some 20 miles away. But no one saw her leave.
Police have questioned the acquaintance, whose name they decline to release. The man says that he left the club without Stepha. The car, which he says was borrowed, is now missing. "It might be in a parking garage or on the side of a roadway," says a spokesman, who adds that police are also conducting helicopter flyovers of south Florida's murky inland canal system.
Tellingly, the investigation into Henry's disappearance has now shifted from missing persons to the homicide division. Still, says her father, Steve Henry, a railway car technician, "every time the phone rings, I think Stepha is calling."