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Family marking 10th anniversary of missing Foley girl with fading hope

LINCOLN COUNTY • Ten years after the 13-year-old girl who loved horses, Barbies and the color purple disappeared without a trace, hope is hard to come by, her mother says.

Shannon Tanner hasn’t given up on finding her daughter, Bianca Piper, alive, but every year it’s gotten harder to commemorate the anniversary of her disappearance.

One year, Tanner said she did nothing to mark the day, and she regretted it.

“Whether we pass out fliers or sit at home and grieve, we still have to go through the emotion of what the day is, and I’d rather be out there trying to make sure everybody remembers her,” she said.

Tuesday marks 10 years since Bianca was last seen. On March 10, 2005, Tanner drove her to a bridge down the street from their home on a remote, winding, gravel road in Foley and let her out to walk back home after an argument. It was a snowy night, and Bianca was wearing blue jeans, tennis shoes and an Adidas hoodie.

The two had argued over Bianca’s not doing the dishes. The teen suffered from bipolar and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, and the walks were recommended by a mental health therapist to calm her.

Bianca was on several different medications to help control her mood swings and aggressive tendencies.

A massive search of 270 square miles turned up no leads. Police said they suspected Bianca had been a victim of foul play.

Gallery: Bianca and 7 other prominent missing children cases

In the decade since then, police have investigated hundreds of leads — many of them coming in after two other missing children, Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby, were found alive in Kirkwood after their abductions by pizzeria manager Michael Devlin.

On at least one occasion, police called Bianca’s family to come meet with a girl who they thought might be Bianca. Those days renewed Tanner’s faith that Bianca would be found, but it was short-lived, she said.

This year, Tanner said she, some family including one of Bianca’s two older sisters, and friends plan to hand out fliers in Lincoln and St. Charles counties. At 5 p.m. Sunday, they’ll meet at Winfield Middle School, where Bianca had been a student, for a short ceremony.

“My mom got some paper lanterns that you light and then they float off,” Tanner said. “I thought they would be pretty, glowing in the evening sky.”

New electronic billboards on Interstate 70 and Highway 370 in St. Charles County also note the anniversary. They have the latest age-progression photo of Bianca, which was made five years ago.

The process of getting a new photo was too hard emotionally to do again, Tanner said.

“I can’t even explain what kind of a feeling it is, but when you see your daughter grow up and change, it’s something you want to see in person,” she said. “The last one that we had made, it took me two or three weeks to open the poster. I had to really get up the courage to do it.”

Tanner said she had asked her friends on Facebook to replace their profile picture with Bianca’s on Tuesday too, as a way of getting the word out.

Lincoln County sheriff’s deputies say they get between six and a dozen leads a year on Bianca’s case, and they review all of the evidence annually.

Capt. Mike Merkel said leads were usually checked out first by officials with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and then forwarded to police if they have merit.

“Unfortunately, the few leads we’ve gotten, none of them have panned out,” he said.

Since her daughter’s disappearance, Tanner moved to a home in St. Charles County that she’s decorated with mementos of Bianca — photos, pictures Bianca made and schoolwork in her daughter’s handwriting.

She also kept two electronic candles in the windows in the living room. Bianca, who was born the day after Christmas, always had decorative lights hanging in her bedroom windows.

“It doesn’t feel like it’s been 10 years, but it really has,” Tanner said. “You just have to trudge on and invest more time in the family that you have here. That and keep to passing out the fliers. It’s really about the only thing I know to do.”

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