Candlelight vigil held in Plant City for missing mom of five
11:33 PM, Jun 4, 2013
8:14 AM, Jun 5, 2013
PLANT CITY -
A crowd gathered in Plant City on Tuesday night to rally behind the family of a missing mother of five.
"We will not stop until Misti is brought home one way or the other," said stepfather Mel Ardelean.
But as the community erupted in cheers at his statement, tears were still quite visible.
The crowd of around 200 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in honor of Misti Whitfield, 35. Whitfield has been missing for more than a month.
According to the Tampa Police Department, she was last seen on May 2 walking near the intersection of West Hillsborough Avenue and North Rome Street.
"We all love her in our own way. We all have our own memories of her," said Whitfield's friend, Chrystal English.
But on Tuesday, many of their flames grew dim knowing just hours earlier, a private investigator hired by the family had revealed what he believes to be the truth.
"I have no professional reason to believe that Misty Whitfield is alive today as we speak," Brad Sparkman said. "I do believe we have one individual that committed murder."
Sparkman, a private investigator based out of St. Petersburg, said he thinks the motive was money.
"I believe the motive for her being murdered had to do with money and a deadline that was not met," said Sparkman, refusing to elaborate any further.
Tampa police are still only investigating this a missing person's case and not as a homicide. Police say Whitfield has disappeared in the past due to issues with drugs and alcohol. However, according to TPD and Sparkman, she has never been gone this long before without reaching out to her family.
So, they're reaching out themselves and praying for closure.
"There needs to be. There needs to be for the family and for the whole community at this point. It's just a tough situation," said Whitfield's step-sister, Amy Peck.
Sparkman said he has turned over all of his information to TPD with the hope that in the next 24 to 72 hours there will be an arrest or arrests made. In his news conference, he said he believes there are three persons of interest.
Sparkman is currently offering a $25,000 reward for any information that leads them to where Whitfield is located.
Police say they do fear for her safety and encourage anyone with information to call the Tampa Police Department immediately.
TPD is currently working 28 active missing persons cases dating back to 1980.