Devoted New Orleans teacher vanishes without a trace

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terrilynn-monette.jpgTERRILYNN MONETTE

 

By Holly Yan and Vivian Kuo

(CNN) — Terrilynn Monette had no problem uprooting her life to help children.

When the California native learned of the “teachNOLA” program, which sends educators to New Orleans to teach in impoverished areas, she packed her bags and headed to Louisiana.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, and what better place to teach than New Orleans, where passionate teachers are needed most?” she said in a 2011 video.

Her dedication and excellence in the classroom earned her a “Teacher of the Year” nomination in her district.

But after a night celebrating the accolade with friends, the 26-year-old vanished.

That was almost two weeks ago. With each passing day, her family’s anxiety compounds.

“There’s total emptiness in my life right now. I miss my daughter so, so much, no one can hardly believe the impact that she has had on our family,” said Monette’s mother, Toni Enclade.

“She’s a beautiful person. She walks in the room, she lights up with her beautiful smile. I can’t imagine anyone that would take her away from us.”

Hundreds of volunteers and police have scoured New Orleans, but are no closer to finding Monette.

She left no clues behind.

A night of celebration

New Orleans police said she was last seen on March 2 at Parlay’s, a bar in the Lakeview area of the city.

One of the bartenders working that night had to “cut off” Monette, indicating the bartender felt she had had too much to drink and should no longer be served, bar manager Anna Boudousque said.

Monette told her friends she was going to sleep in her car before driving home because she had been drinking, police said.

She was seen about 4 a.m., talking to an unidentified man in the parking lot, police said.

Authorities said that man has been interviewed and is not considered a suspect in the disappearance.

Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies even used magnets and grappling hooks to search a local bayou between the bar and Monette’s home, but found no sign of her missing 2012 black Honda Accord.

On Wednesday, search workers found a vehicle in the waters of Bayou St. John, but it was determined not to be Monette’s car, police said.

The vehicle was discovered by Equusearch, an independent search and rescue team out of Texas that has volunteered to help police comb the lagoons and waterways of New Orleans City Park.

It discovered the car using a small sonar device attached to a boat that swept the waterway. Police then sent divers down to examine the vehicle, and confirmed it did not belong to Monette.

Enclade told CNN that she believes someone has taken her daughter — a new aunt — against her will.

“Terrilynn was supposed to be the baby’s godmother, and I know she wouldn’t have just left on her own like that,” she said.

A star teacher

In her first year of teaching second grade at Woodland West Elementary School, Monette turned one of the lowest-performing classes into one of the highest achieving.

“She is wonderful, she is vibrant. She is determined. She holds her students to the highest of expectations,” Principal Amy Hoyle said. “She is very loving with her students. They are a family.”

Enclade said she and her daughter usually speak every day, and it’s extremely uncharacteristic for Monette to drop out of sight.

Friends and family have erected a billboard in downtown New Orleans seeking help in finding Monette, but to no avail. They also created a Facebook page.

“It hurts,” Monette’s aunt, Sheryl Bennett, told CNN affiliate WDSU. “There’s a lot of danger out here.”

But in her 2011 video, Monette said she had no qualms about starting her teaching career in New Orleans.

“I absolutely do not regret my decision to move out here. Becoming a teacher in New Orleans is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my entire life.”

How you can help: Terrilynn Monette is described as an African-American female, approximately 5’8″ tall, weighing 180 pounds and having a light complexion with long brown hair. She was last seen driving a 2012 black two-door Honda Accord with Louisiana license plate WUN494. If you have any information, please contact the New Orleans Police Department at (504) 821-2222 or Texas EquuSearch at (281) 309-9500.

CNN’s Nick Valencia, Tristan Smith and Michael Pearson contributed to this report.

 

 

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