In 1985, an eight-year-old girl named Cherrie Mahan seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth. She was walking to get on the school bus and was only fifty feet from her house when she seems to have simply disappeared. The case has gone on to become one of the most infamous missing children cases in US history.
Cherrie Mahan was born on August 14, 1985, to 16-year-old mother Janice Mahan. Janice reportedly had a very close and loving relationship with Cherrie, who was described as a talkative and sweet young girl. Janice would go on to marry LeRoy McKinney, a Vietnam veteran who reportedly was very fond of Cherrie. The family lived in a Pennsylvania suburb in Butler County at the time of Cherrie’s disappearance.
Janice walked her daughter to the bus stop on February 22, 1985, not knowing that it would be the last time she’d see Cherrie. The bus stop was very close to their home, only about fifty feet from their driveway. Cherrie then went to school, a day that faculty would later recount as being uneventful. Cherrie was dropped back off by the school bus at around 4:10 PM and was last seen walking back toward her home by the mother of one of her friends.
The parent in question, Debbie Burk, told investigators that she believed she’d seen a 1970s Dodge van near the bus stop when Cherrie and her friends were dropped off. The van was distinctive, according to Burk, because it had a mural of a skier on the side.
When McKinney heard the bus arrive, he began to walk outside to meet his stepdaughter. Janice, however, stopped him, saying it was such a nice day out for February that they should let her walk. When she didn’t arrive at the door ten minutes later, they grew worried, and a search of their front yard showed no trace of their daughter.
Cherrie Mahan’s disappearance became a national sensation, with headlines all over the country picking apart even the smallest crumbs of clues in the case. The sheer lack of physical evidence has baffled investigators, leading to rampant theories about what may have happened to the child.
Some have speculated that a family member or family friend may have kidnapped Cherrie. The child’s mother has stated that she doesn’t believe Cherrie’s biological father kidnapped her, but that people “known to him” may have. Authorities ruled out the possibility of kidnapping for a ransom, given that no ransom demands were ever made.
Janice Mahan would later recount that February 22, 1985, was the first day she hadn’t been standing at the base of her driveway to meet Cherrie. It’s impossible to know how the events of that afternoon could have changed had Janice taken her usual walk outside, but she says the question of “what if” will always haunt her.