One year ago, a proud member of the Port City community went missing. Described as vivacious and one-of-a-kind, there was no shortage of support for her family and friends. Tireless searches and cherished, heartfelt moments at vigils and community gatherings prevailed. That woman was Shannon Rippy VanNewkirk, former production coordinator at Screen Gems Studio.
Tomorrow night at 5:30 p.m. friends, family and folks who simply have been moved by VanNewkirk’s story will gather at The Husk in order to keep her memory alive and take note of a life worth celebrating. The event occurs in conjunction with VanNewkirk’s birthday (Monday, April 6) and the one-year anniversary of her disappearance (Sunday, April 5).
“It’s going to be so nice to see all these people have remembered Shannon and still love her and miss her,” VanNewkirk’s mother, Bobbi Lewis, tells. “They’ve been great throughout the whole year. So many people have called so many times, and it helps you get through the day knowing your daughter’s not been forgotten.”
On April 5, 2014, VanNewkirk was seen entering The Husk Bar in downtown Wilmington, just one day before her birthday on April 6. That is the last confirmed sighting of the woman who meant so much to this community. In the wake of her disappearance, a deluge of locals, comprising fellow film community members, family, friends, and even complete strangers, poured out to search for VanNewkirk. Many turned up just because they themselves were a parent or brother and could empathize with the pain not knowing a loved one’s whereabouts would bring.
In late April last year, a man named James Bradley was taken into custody and charged with the first-degree murder of VanNewkirk, who is presumed deceased. Bradley previously was convicted of the first-degree murder of 8-year-old Alisa Ivy Gibson in 1990. He was released from prison in 2013 in accordance with the Fair Sentencing Law.
Subsequently, Bradley began working with Mott Landscaping, where VanNewkirk also worked. On the day of his arrest, a neighbor reports Bradley was exhibiting strange behavior—such as shaving his head. The neighbor conjectured he may have been thinking of skipping town. Though Bradley’s given no indication of where VanNewkirk’s remains may be, he remains in custody, facing first-degree murder charges.
While new information has yet to be brought to light, Shannon’s brother, Shawn Dayton and VanNewkirk’s friends have continued searching. “I try to go at least monthly to Greenfield Lake and up to Hampstead,” Dayton details. “They’re the only places I know to go. I search with a couple of my sister’s friends, and we’ve been going quite regularly.”
“It’s very difficult,” Lewis laments. “I just keep hoping that someday I’ll get a call that somebody has found her. [The police and detectives] been searching and they keep in touch. The head detective calls my son often to let us know they haven’t forgotten her.”
For VanNewkirk’s family and friends, keeping her name out there via social media is the name of the game. Someone may know even the most minute detail that could bring closure to this tragedy.
“If you’re a hunter and you’re out in the woods, keep your eyes open,” Dayton implores. “[Or] if you’re a hiker or something.”
We just need to keep it out there,” Joyce Fernando, a friend of VanNewkirk and an instrumental crusader in her return, comments. “By us gathering and keeping it alive on social media and the regular media, we’re still hoping that maybe there’s someone who saw something or heard something. We want to keep the pressure on as well.”
Fernando, Lewis, and VanNewkirk’s aunt have scoured through countless photos in preparation for tomorrow’s event. While the search efforts alive is a huge component of the gathering at The Husk, remembering and reflecting on VanNewkirk is the priority. Light refreshments will be served and memories will be shared.
“Shannon hasn’t ever been forgotten, and it being one year, it’s a good time for people to come together,” Fernando says.
“She was a great daughter,” Lewis reminisces. “She was a fun girl. She was always a joy to have around, and she was a great cook. I miss her so much. It’s very difficult not knowing where she is, and I want her home.”
Tomorrow night’s event is free and open to the public. Folks who would like to get involved in search efforts or who know any information can contact Fernando at (910) 799-3434.
We Love and Miss Shannon Rippy VanNewkirk
The Husk Bar, 31 S. Front St.
Wednesday, April 8, 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.