'I Want My Daughter Back!'
"No," Shilie said, giving a playful grin as she boarded. Then her bus rolled away into the night.
The next day—Martin Luther King Day—Shilie's friends were startled when she failed to appear at a track meet. Though Philadelphia's William Penn High School is a violence-plagued inner-city school with a 90 percent dropout rate, the girls' track team was ranked first in the nation two years ago. Shilie. who dreamed of going to the Olympics and was headed to Clemson University next year on an athletic scholarship, was team captain and the Lions' shining star. She had the top time in U.S. high school competition in the indoor 600-yard dash and two days earlier had set a regional record in the 800 meters. She would never miss a meet if she could help it.
Shilie was reported missing that day by her mother, Vivian King, 42, and police began to investigate. The bus driver remembered letting Shilie off in an area teeming with junkies, six blocks from her home. But King told the press that her wiry, 5'9", 130-lb. daughter could haw handled any danger she encountered. "If she saw someone coming," said King, "she would have outrun them."
The mysterious disappearance was especially troubling to a city that understood the challenges Shilie had been overcoming. Like many of her peers, Shilie came from a broken family. She had little contact with her natural father and had been raised by her mother, who worked sporadically as a nurse's aide, and her mother's common-law husband, Clarence Jones, a newspaper distributor. She was determined to make something of herself, and she was doing it. "She was such an upbeat kid," says her track coach, Ed Hickey. "She radiated sunshine."
In the weeks that followed Shilie's disappearance, her mother made a series of appeals on radio and television for her daughter's return. At a rail and march by more than 1,000 students and neighbors. King shouted into a bullhorn, "I want my daughter back!"
Those who knew Shilie well were just a bit surprised by her mother's fervor. King had never bothered to attend any of her daughter's track meets and, according to Shilie's friends, was jealous of her success. "Her mother would say, 'You're not going to make it,' " says Shilie's best friend, Nickey Ford. Around the neighborhood, King was not well liked. "She drank a lot." says Nickey's mother, Mary White. "She had a terrible temper, cussing out people up and down the street."
Shilie's stepfather seemed more affable than her mother toward their neighbors. But Ford reportedly told the police that Shilie had been molested by Jones and had to abort his child last August. The police decline to comment. While admitting he paid for an abortion, Jones has denied it was his child. "I treated Shilie like a father," Jones (old the Philadelphia Daily News. "Nothing sexual happened."
On Feb. 20, 33 days after Shilie's disappearance, a man walking his dog in Fairmount Park, about a mile from Shilie's home, found her partially de-composed and frozen body under twigs and brush. She had been shot six times with a .38-caliber pistol. During a funeral service at Mount Carmel Baptist Church attended by Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell, King stood by her daughter's casket and cried out, "I miss you, Shay-Shay!" But while tears streamed down the cheeks of many of the 1,200 mourners present, King appeared curiously stoic. "She showed no feeling," says Shilie's teammate Quanda Buckner.
Buckner wasn't the only one puzzled by King's behavior. Local radio talk show host Mary Mason, who says she had "kind of bonded" with King when Shilie was missing, became suspicious when King refused her offer to raise a $25,000 reward to find the killer. On March 3, Mason responded to a growing chorus of rumors about Shilie's troubled home life by asking King point-blank if she had killed her daughter. "She said no and then described how all except two of Shilie's perfectly white teeth had been knocked out when she was shot. Mason says. "She never looked at me and kept turning her pocketbook over."
One week later, after a 16-hour interrogation session by police, King was arrested for murder. In a confession that she has since claimed was coerced, King told police she had killed Shilie in a drunken rage because she was angry at her for coming in late. ""I have this problem with booze," she reportedly said. "I have these blackouts. like, and things come back in bits and pieces." Jones was also called in for questioning but was not charged.
Currently confined to the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center, King has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. "Shilie fell victim to somebody else on the way home from the bus stop," says King's attorney, Jack McMahon. Police have released few details of their investigation, and a murder weapon has yet to be recovered. Meanwhile, as King awaits trial this month, Shilie's friends are haunted by the loss of a friend who dared to dream of a better life. "Last summer she'd sit here watching the Olympics and say, 'You're going to see me running across the TV screen in '96,' " Nickey Ford says. "It's hard to believe she was so close and didn't make it."
J.D. PODOLSKY in Philadelphia
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