US police have reignited one of the country’s oldest missing children’s cases, sparking fresh hope as they release images of what Teekah Lewis might look like nearly 24 years after she disappeared.
Tacoma Police said they were inspired by last month’s breakthrough, in which a kidnapped baby was reunited with her family after 51 years.
“If it takes us 51 years, we will keep searching,” Tacoma Police assistant chief Tamara Floyd said. “This department will never stop looking.”
Police released an age progression photo of Teekah, in the hope she would be recognised as the woman she may look like now.
Teekah’s mum, Theresa Czapieski, couldn’t hold back her tears when she saw the doctored image.
Ms Czapieski, 51, said she hadn’t stopped looking for Teekah since the night her daughter disappeared in January 1999, aged just two.
“We’ll never give up,” she said in an emotional address, standing alongside Teekah’s three sisters and young nieces and nephews.
“That’s one thing I won’t do. Because I know she’s out there. Unless there’s evidence that she’s not here no more.”
Teekah was last seen on the night of January 23, 1999 at a bowling alley with her family in central Tacoma.
She was a “mama’s girl”, Ms Czapieski said.
Teekah had been right beside Ms Czapieski until it was her turn to bowl, according to local news outlet the News Tribune.
She asked her brother and then-boyfriend to look after the toddler, but when she turned around, Teekah was gone.
“They said they didn’t see nothing,” Ms Czapieski said. “So whoever took her, took her within seconds.”
Police say no one remembers seeing the two-year-old leave the packed bowling alley. Teekah’s troubling case had left detectives with a “big mystery”, Tacoma Police Detective Julie Dier said.
“At this point, we don’t have any evidence, any physical evidence, we have no body,” she said. “While that remains the case, there is always a chance that she is still somewhere out there.”
Police were left without a single suspect despite following more than 700 dead end leads, according to local reports.
They went to great lengths to find Teekah, mowing down a wetland, using sniffer dogs to search the homes of sex offenders, and digging up a park where a local man said he had a “vision” Teekah was buried.
With the new images injecting fresh hope into the longstanding case, police called for anyone with information – including about a mysterious purple Pontiac seen speeding away from the scene of the disappearance – to come forward.
It’s possible Teekah is alive and doesn’t know she was kidnapped, police said.
Through it all, Ms Czapiewski has held a candlelight vigil for her daughter every year.
“We want it nationwide,” she said. “We want everybody across the United States, not even just the States, you know different countries to see this because you never know, she could be anywhere. It’s time to bring her home.”