It was January 2, 1999, and 9-year-old Kimber Biggs and her 11-year-old sister were playing in the street in their Mesa neighborhood while waiting for an ice cream truck.
After a while, Kimber got cold and went inside for her jacket; her sister stayed to wait, clutching the quarters she got from her mom to buy ice cream.
When Kimber returned minutes later, her sister had vanished, her bike lying abandoned on the sidewalk beside two quarters strewn in the street.
Kimber would never see Mikelle Biggs again.
More than 16 years later and the case of Mikelle Biggs — one of the Valley’s most infamous child abductions— remains unsolved. Kimber is now speaking out to ensure her sister’s case, and her memory, are not forgotten.
“I hope we will get justice some day. I just don’t know in what form,” Kimber says. “I will definitely hold out hope. I feel like somebody does know something, and I feel like it’s impossible for no answers to never come up.”
The day Mikelle disappeared, Mesa police launched an investigation, while her family and neighbors desperately scoured the Valley for the missing sixth-grader. But few leads were uncovered, and eventually the case went cold.
Mikelle was simply gone.
Just two years apart in age, Kimber and Mikelle had been inseparable.
“We were pretty close. We both liked to read and we would read together at night,” she says. “We played all the time. Little girls playing pretend all day.”
Because she was the last person to see Mikelle alive, Kimber blamed herself for what happened.
“At the time I was young, and I had it in my head that I shouldn’t have left her alone because if I was there this wouldn’t have happened,” she says. “I still get that feeling that I wish I could have been out there. I wish I could have prevented this somehow.”
Five years after Mikelle went missing, her family had come to accept that the 11-year-old was dead. The Biggs family held a funeral, burying an empty casket. The case had shifted from finding Mikelle to finding her killer. But despite intense media interest in the case, it remains a mystery.
Missing persons cases are notoriously difficult for law enforcement to solve, says Kelly Snyder, founder of Arizona-based Find Me, an organization dedicated to locating missing people.
“Not only do you not have a body, in most cases, you’re limited in what you know happened,” says Snyder.
There are about 90,000 missing people in the United States, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System.
In Phoenix alone, there are 130 active missing persons cases and 70 unidentified dead bodies, says Detective Stuart Somershoe, one of just two detectives assigned to the Phoenix Police Department's missing-persons unit.
In addition to lacking a body and crime scene, in missing persons cases, the vast Arizona desert presents a unique obstacle. When a body is dumped in the desert, it often never is recovered.
“The desert is like the Pacific Ocean for us,” Somershoe says.
For the families left behind without closure, the pain of a loved one's disappearing can be unbearable, Somershoe says. Often they understand that their loved one is deceased but still can't fully accept it.
“These families are denied closure. They remain in the limbo of not knowing,” he says. “They don’t have a grave to visit. Every holiday, every birthday, every anniversary, their loved one is not there.”
As the years passed without Mikelle, the Biggs family broke apart. Mikelle’s parents divorced. Their father, Darien, remarried; mother Tracy moved to Utah. Kimber, now 26, lives in Mesa and works part-time as a waitress while raising her 3-year-old son.
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Today, Kimber has found comfort in an unusual place — through Facebook, where she created a page dedicated to remembering Mikelle. At first, it was an outlet to share memories — something she had suppressed growing up because it was so painful for her parents. But after launching the page, something strange started happening.
“People started coming forward, not only with support but with information and potentially leads,” Kimber says. “I ended up changing the name of the page from ‘Remember Mikelle Biggs’ to ‘Justice for Mikelle Biggs.’”
Although the leads have yet to make a connection, Kimber hopes that someday they will. Until then, Kimber will continue remembering the sister she lost.
“Her life was important — she touched many lives,” Kimber says. “I never want to think of her and automatically think that she is gone. I want to think of her and remember what an influence she was on me. I am who I am today because of Mikelle.”