Until now, Dottie McLean had held on to hope that her daughter, Jennifer Lynn Fay, would be found alive, even though it’s been 24 years since the vivacious 16-year-old disappeared from their Emerson Avenue neighborhood in Brockton.
McLean had willed it to be so every time the phone rang, and each time police and investigators searched for human remains in the murky bottoms of ponds and in deep local forests.
But based on new information, McLean says she is ready to accept the inevitable: that the girl with the fashionably teased bangs and big, friendly smile who vanished from the city’s north side on Nov. 14, 1989, is never coming home.
“After so many years, I now know that something happened to Jennifer,’’ said McLean, who has since moved to Raynham. “And the people involved must come forward.”
McLean is seeking help to corroborate recently gathered details that suggest her daughter was accidentally killed as close as a block from her home the night she never returned from attending a party on Broad Street.
McLean and private investigator Michelle Taylor Littlefield of Taunton – who has worked the case for free for almost 10 years – also believe Jennifer was hastily buried to cover up the fatal deed. Littlefield would not identify the property where she believes the girl was buried, but said the owner of the home, who bought the property after Fay’s disappearance, has not granted permission for a search.
“Our most recent information came in via two anonymous tips in cellphone messages to me, and close to 50 interviews of people who lived in the neighborhood at the time,’’ Littlefield said. “We believe she was the victim of homicide, and she never left the neighborhood.’’
McLean said she has long believed that her daughter’s closest friends are hiding the truth, fearing retribution for themselves or their families. But it’s time to speak, she said: “They know something. And after all these years, I need to know, too.”
Littlefield and her business partner, Charles Castro, took on the Fay case in 2004, adding their efforts to searches by local and state police.
All told, well over 260 people have been interviewed in the case, she said, many of them teenagers and young adults at the time who, like Jennifer, were living in a fast time in a fast city.
Jennifer was supposed to be babysitting her younger brother and sister that night, but she went out with friends after arranging for a cousin to cover for her. She came back home with a boy early in the evening, but left alone after he got sick and chose not to go to a party with her. Jennifer was last seen standing at the window of a car that had stopped just up the street, McLean said.
“We believe she knew who was in the vehicle, and we don’t think someone planned ahead of time to hurt her,’’ Littlefield added.
What’s tragic, Littlefield said, is the coverup, going on 24 years now.
“Finding Jennifer, and bringing her home, will give her family peace,” she said.
Tonight, on the 24th anniversary of Jennifer’s disappearance, McLean will join a group of supporters for a 6:30 p.m. candlelight vigil outside St. Edith Stein Church in Brockton at 71 East Main St. They will walk Jennifer’s last known route, then pray outside the church.
A fund-raiser on Saturday at Max’s Blues Café on Field Street will benefit the Jennifer Lynn Fay Foundation for Missing Children. Doors open at 3.
Annette Randall, a bartender at Max’s who has run the fund-raiser for the past two years, was three years ahead of Jennifer in school and remembers her well.
“She was a social butterfly, always so happy; then she just disappeared,’’ said Randall, who considers McLean family.
Randall also believes the truth has been purposefully hidden and the new information, if it can be corroborated, will reveal it: “Is this the year? God, I hope so.”
Last week, investigators from the Plymouth County prosecutor’s office and local police said that bones found in the woods on the Brockton-East Bridgewater line are human and were examined for possible identification. But it wasn’t Jennifer. A spokeswoman for the district attorney confirmed the bones are male.
Littlefield and McLean expressed frustration with Brockton police, who initially insisted Jennifer was a runaway and, more recently, have not responded to their offer to share new information.
It was only when Warren teenager Molly Bish disappeared in 2000, 11 years after Jennifer vanished, that the local search was stepped up, McLean said. Bish’s remains were found 5 miles from her home in 2003.
Littlefield said she contacted Brockton Police Chief Emanuel Gomes in August to share her information in the case but has had no response. Gomes did not respond to the Globe’s request for comment last week.
But District Attorney Timothy Cruz said in a statement: “This is about a young girl who disappeared 24 years ago. Her family has never wavered in their determination to find out what happened to her. For us, it remains an open case. Over the years, we have aggressively investigated all credible leads and we will continue to do so.”
While it is still hard for McLean to discuss her daughter without tears, she smiled warmly during a recent visit while flipping through photo albums and sharing old mementos.
One was a note Jennifer left her in the weeks before she disappeared: “Mom, if you talk to the landlord please tell him the shower needs to be fixed,” it said. “It’s the only thing that will wake me up at 5 a.m. . . . Have a nice day and thanks for the hair spray . . . Love always, Your Angel.”
That note shows she would never have run away, McLean said.
McLean and Littlefield ask anyone with information about the case to call 508-328-9285. More information is available at The Jennifer Lynn Fay Foundation for Missing Children at www.jenniferlynnfayfoundation.org.