CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Anthony and Shaunna Burns are hard at work on a gift for their daughter. They are redecorating her room but they have no idea when or if she will see it.
One year ago, they woke up to find the front door unlocked and their 16-year-old daughter Hailey gone.
“You have to let go of the hope that she will just walk through the door,” Shaunna Burns said. “We are past that point. She is not just going to come home in the middle of the night. You have to hope that they still find her, wherever she is.”
Every day, not knowing what happened to Hailey is agony, so they try to find ways to keep busy, such as writing to her. Her father has written an entire book filled with poetry for his missing daughter.
(Anthony and Shaunna Burns)
“You have to distract yourself because you will drive yourself crazy wondering what you could have done, or could be doing,” Anthony Burns said.
They also must keep going for their 9-year-old twins and are being hypervigilant in caring for them.
“We are just so worried that something bad could happen again, like this, that we are a little obsessive about it, to be honest,” Shaunna said.
A new tip from one of Hailey’s classmates seems to confirm their worst fears.
“He told me that my daughter had been talking to a 30-year-old man for over six months who was trying to convince her not to talk to him, and saying that he would be her friend and she could come to him,” Anthony said.
The student seemed to suggest that Hailey’s abductor might have taken her to Tennessee or somewhere in the Midwest.
Just before she disappeared, Hailey displayed odd behavior. She started wearing her hair in pigtails and using a pacifier.
At the time, the worried parents reached out to therapists who told them their daughter was just stressed and that these were likely “self-soothing” techniques that Hailey was using.
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Later, Anthony and Shaunna found messages online from someone who had told Hailey to call him “Daddy.”
They believe that this unknown man convinced Hailey to leave and go to him.
They see similarities to recent cases in the news, such as those of Tad Cummins and Elizabeth Thomas, and find it to be a disturbing trend.
“The idea that no matter what we did on our end to protect ourselves, she still had access to this guy from her school,” Shaunna said. “What if someone at her school had been that person? That is terrifying to us.”
Hailey’s father has a warning for other parents.
“If there are parents out there who think that their kids are above this, or that they are somehow smarter than everyone else, they need to wake up,” he said. “My daughter had a 137 IQ, very intelligent.”
After 365 days, Anthony and Shaunna have just removed a room divider that they had blocking Hailey’s bedroom door. Until now, the room had stayed locked up and just as it was the day she left.
They have organized her favorite things, and Christmas and birthday presents await her return.
The room now lights up a space they said had become a hole in the middle of their house that was filled with negative energy.
Instead of the entrance to the room being blocked off, they said, Hailey’s little sisters can go in her room when they miss her and read one of her books or sit on her bed to feel close to her.
The Burns want to tell other people to guard vigilantly against a similar situation happening to their families.
They would like to go to area schools and talk to families to warn them about this problem.
Also, Anthony Burns hopes to publish his book of poetry, titled “5/23/16,” which is the date that Hailey disappeared.
He would like all of the proceeds to go to organizations that help families with missing children.
Anthony Burns provided Channel 9 with a copy of the forward from his book of poetry:
On May 23rd 2016 my wife and I awoke to get our 16 year old daughter up for school Monday morning.
In her bed was a pile of stuffed animals and a journal with happy thoughts and a plan to leave our home.
As the days that followed would reveal there was much more to what happened to my daughter on that day and it will forever change my life.
I am writing this for the parents of missing persons who are waiting for news of what has happened to their child.
My daughter was troubled and had psychological problems that were diagnosed and clouded her judgment. I was working very closely with her to get her on track spending evenings trying to bond with her and feeling as if I was making some progress.
But then on 05/23/2016 my life was forever changed.
I miss you Hailey and as a published poet I hope if you read this you will understand that all of this is done for you and to help others avoid the loss that our family feels now that you are gone.
I love you my perfect daughter
Your real “Daddy”
<3 <3 <3
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