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Cherrie Mahan cold case: 39 years later, search continues for Butler County native

Search continues for Cherrie Mahan 39 years later
Search continues for Cherrie Mahan 39 years later 03:39

WINFIELD TOWNSHIP, Pa. (KDKA) — Thirty-nine years ago, 8-year-old Cherrie Mahan vanished after she got off her school bus on a rural Butler County road.

State police told KDKA-TV that Cherrie's case is classified as "active" and its not necessarily "cold." They still get tips, and February tends to bring in the most.

Despite all the time that's gone by, Cherrie's mother and her friends gather to pray at the time and place Cherrie disappeared. She hopes this year is the one her baby girl will be found.

"Dear Lord, I pray that you definitely just let me know and I know that you will," Janice McKinney said in a prayer. 

McKinney is a mother praying for answers on the very road her daughter was last seen 39 years ago.

"This is the day Cherrie got off the bus and was never seen again and we come here and I pray," said McKinney.

It was 4:05 p.m. on Feb. 22, 1985, on Cornplanter Road in Winfield Township. The school bus dropped Mahan off at the bottom of the hill near her home. McKinney and her husband, Leroy, were inside waiting for Cherrie to run up the hill, excited to go to a friend's that day.

"Leroy's like do you want me to go down and pick her up and I said no, it's a beautiful day, she'll come running right up over the hill because she wants to go. But then that never happened," McKinney said.

People who saw her get off the bus said they saw a blue or green van behind it and a blue-colored sedan in the area. Those vehicles and the drivers have not been identified or located.

"It's like a black hole opened up and she fell in," McKinney said.

Pennsylvania State Police Troop D is still searching for Mahan. Investigators said countless people have been interviewed, and tips constantly come into the Butler barracks from all over the country and as far away as Europe. The case file contains almost 4,000 pages, which doesn't include tips, pictures, notes and evidence.

"The not knowing is really what sucks the life out of you. It just beats you down every single day and for the past 39 years, this has been the hardest part of my life," McKinney said.

Cherrie would be 47 years old today.

"She had the biggest eyes and she loved everybody," her mom said.

Mahan's disappearance still haunts childhood friend Amanda Ashbee. 

"She's still in the back of my mind, always. I'm 47 years old, and I don't think there's been a month in my life that has gone by where you haven't heard a story about a child missing or you read something. She's the first thought that comes to my mind," Ashbee said.

Ashbee didn't realize how difficult it was to internalize what happened as a child and she carries that with her as a mother. She said her kids know who Mahan is and she made sure to be at their bus stop when they were picked up and dropped off.

"It definitely played a big role on how I viewed the world. I was very much aware of my surroundings after that, even at a young age. It was devastating to everyone and I don't think we realized how traumatizing it was to us until we got older and had kids of our own," she said.

State police said the amount of time that's gone by makes this case difficult to solve. There's still a $5,000 cash reward for anyone with information that leads to an arrest, solving the case or finding Mahan.

"There's someone out there who knows something. Of course, we all pray that she's safe somewhere. But I do think that eventually, we will learn exactly what happened that day," Ashbee said.

McKinney said her friends give her strength to continue the fight every day.

"I just believe that somebody knows something and that I pray every day that somebody gets a conscious and tells somebody because somebody knows," she said.

State police have a lead detective who has been on the case for at least six years and all the previous troopers who had the case are retired. 

"Multiple detectives from PSP have looked at this case and worked it over the years. Detectives want to solve all of their unsolved cases, but cases with child victims can weigh more on an investigator, especially cases where the child has not been located," State police shared with KDKA-TV.

McKinney said she'll never give up hope until the day she dies or until she finds out what happened to her daughter.

"We're going to find Cherrie one way or another," she said in a prayer.

When Mahan was last seen, she was wearing a gray jacket, denim skirt, blue leg warmers and a blue backpack.

If you know anything about her case, you're asked to call the Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers at 1-800-4PA-TIPS or the State Police Butler barracks at 724-284-8100.

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