Vanished: The Story of Joey Lynn Offutt
Editor's Note: This is the second in a six-part series highlighting missing persons cases in Centre County.
Jennifer Cahill-Shadle is the most recent one – but she isn't the only one.
Cahill-Shadle, 48, was last seen May 15 at Walmart on North Atherton Street in Ferguson Township. She joins a group of missing persons connected to Centre County, including Joey Lynn Offutt, Ray Gricar, Hyun Jong "Cindy" Song, Dawn Marie Miller and Brenda Louise Condon.
In all six of these cases people vanished without a trace. While in some instances evidence indicates foul play, the circumstances surrounding each disappearance remains a mystery.
State College residents likely remember these high-profile cases and may have information that can help answer the unknown.
This is the story of Joey Lynn Offutt.
Authorities began investigating the disappearance of Offutt following an arson fire at her home July 12, 2007 in Sykesville, Jefferson County. Her six-week old baby was found dead inside the charred home. Her car, a red Saturn coupe with Virginia license JXN8871 was found a few days later at the Nittany Gardens apartment complex in State College, where Offutt and her boyfriend used to live.
Offutt had two other children, who weren't home at the time of the fire. They live with relatives. Offutt was last seen walking in Sykesville on July 5, 2007.
Trooper David Ray with the state police Criminal Investigative Assessment Unit is in charge of the investigation. He's been on the case since it began. His office issued an alert earlier this month, on the anniversary of fire, reminding the public the case remains unsolved.
Ray and other investigators also regularly review the case file looking for clues that may have been overlooked or leads not yet considered.
"It still is an active case," Ray says.
Over the last seven years, investigators have received numerous tips, particularly after Offutt's story is featured on a television program, such as America's Most Wanted or Disappeared. Investigators also presented the case to the Vidocq Society, an organization that meets monthly in Philadelphia to evaluate unsolved deaths.
Additionally, Offutt's DNA is part of NamUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which is a database under the U.S. Department of Justice that helps match the DNA of unidentified human remains to missing persons.
While authorities consider Offutt's "on again, off again" boyfriend a person of interest and have interviewed him several times, there is not enough evidence to charge him or anyone else with a crime.
Jason Hungerford, Offutt's nephew, says Offutt's disappearance has torn his family apart.
"We really haven't gotten any major leads or tips in the entire seven years she's been missing. We still don't really know what really happened and who's responsible. So we're still at quite a loss," says Hungerford.
There is a theory that perhaps Offutt felt responsible for the death of the baby, who died before the fire, and then maybe in a panic, she set the fire and fled. However, the family doubts that's plausibie because Offutt has two other children who were not home at the time. They say she is not the type of person who would abandon them, and she disappeared shortly before a daughter's birthday.
"Her children were her world. So for her to miss her daughter's birthday and to not call, really let us know that Joey was in trouble, she had been kidnapped, or she was dead," says Hungerford.
Also, a small but significant detail in the case is a red flag for the family – Offutt's car, the one found in State College – had been backed into a parking space. The family says Offutt wasn't a great driver and she never backed her way into a parking space. Hungerford also says the driver's seat was reclined, in a position for someone larger than Offutt.
"Joey was not responsible for any of this and she is most likely dead and she was killed and it was basically staged to make it look like she was responsible for killing her child and then fleeing," says Hungerford.
Anyone with information regarding Offutt's whereabouts can contact the state police Criminal Investigation Unit at the Punxsutawney barracks at 814-938-0510.
The family is offering a $25,000 reward for information that leads to her whereabouts.
"We beg and plead to anyone with information to come forward and tell the police and let us know what they might know, even if they think it's insubstantial and not important ... even a little something would be helpful," says Hungerford.