Mar 13, 201309:53 AM
Dispatches from a New Orleans Newcomer
The Search for Terrilyn Monette
This sign is now posted in the laundry room of my apartment complex.
On this blog I usually write about things that make me happy about the city of New Orleans, but today I’m writing about something that has been making me uneasy: the disappearance of Terrilyn Monette.
For those of you who haven’t been following this story, Monette went missing Saturday, March 2. According to a press release from the New Orleans Police Department, she was at Parlay’s Bar on Harrison Avenue and when she left, she decided to sleep in her car because she had had too much to drink and did not want to drive home. The press release also states that a witness saw Monette with an “unidentified man” at 4 a.m. in the parking lot and she was “last seen at approximately 5:00 A.M., at the Parlay’s Bar located in the 800 block of Harrison Avenue.” She and her Honda Accord have not been found. (Another thing to point out is there are multiple spellings of Monette's name that have been publicized. Since I cannot ask her to fact-check it, I'm going with the spelling that is on the signs around Lakeview, such as the one in the picture published with this blog.)
The story of Monette's disappearance first made me nervous because I also like Parlay’s because it is one of the few bars close to my apartment building in Lakeview (it’s actually in Lake Terrace, but I’ve heard people refer to the whole area near Lake Pontchartrain – such as Lake Vista and Lake Terrace – as Lakeview). I’ve only been to the bar a few times since moving here, but it’s a fun neighborhood place, a good choice for Lakeview residents who don’t feel like venturing downtown or Uptown. And Parlay's is on Harrison Avenue, one of my favorite places in New Orleans because it reminds me of a mini Pleasantville, with its grocery store, great restaurants and cute shops all within a few blocks.
Since Monette went missing, Harrison Avenue has been full of signs with a number to call if people know anything, and the signs have made me feel uneasy about the Lakeview neighborhood. When Chris and I first moved here, we knew nothing about the different neighborhoods of New Orleans, so we chose our apartment based on the crime reports on the NOPD website. Lakeview was a super safe spot on the crime map, so we decided to move there because of its good record and its close proximity to both of our jobs.
While I love New Orleans, one of its bad features is its crime rate; I cringe when I see the city come up on those "Most Dangerous Cities" lists. Yet, even though the numbers can be unsettling, I’ve always felt safe here, especially in my apartment and the Lakeview area, where I spend a lot of my time.
At least I felt safe until a woman stopped me outside of my apartment complex last week.
“You know, you should be careful around here,” she said. It took me a second to realize she was talking to me. She was standing across the street, getting into her car.
“Oh?” I replied.
“Make sure you are vigilant when you’re out here. There have been reports of abductions in the area. You’ve heard about that teacher, right?”
“Yes,” I said. The teacher she was talking about was Monette, who came from California to New Orleans for the TeachNOLA program, a nonprofit that puts teachers in schools that need them.
“It’s a sad world we live in,” the lady said, as she ended the conversation. I thanked her for her advice and we both got into our respective cars. I drove off to work, a bit shaken from the conversation, but somewhat grateful that this lady had taken time out of her day to talk to me.
I kept thinking about the conversation all day. I went onto NOLA.com and read and re-read a story about Monette. I kept thinking about her and where she was and what had happened to her.
I became more nervous on Monday, March 11, when I came home during my lunch break and saw white folded pieces of paper taped to all of the residents’ doors in my complex. Chris and I didn’t have one on our door, so I didn’t think much of it. But when I got in, Chris showed me the paper he had pulled off our door and said, “Oh you know that lady who’s missing? She lived here.”
I immediately got a sick feeling in my stomach. The paper was a letter to all residents letting us know that Monette was a part of our apartment community. The letter also included tips from the NOPD about being safe while out at night. It made me nervous. She lived here? A woman who is missing lived near me?
The disappearance of Monette suddenly became more than a news story to me. Now I had a personal connection. I wondered if I had ever passed her in our parking lot or if she had ever done laundry next to me in the laundry room. I wondered if she had decided to go to Parlay’s that night because it’s the closest bar to the apartment complex. I wondered, as a fellow New Orleans transplant, if Monette had chosen the complex because she liked the safe neighborhood, just like I did. While it's sad to hear about any missing person, it's different when you have a personal connection. At one point, the story of Monette seemed far away. After reading the letter, the story became much closer. Monette and I share an address. She is one of my neighbors.
With the letter from my complex and the memory of the lady who stopped me outside warning me to be vigilant, I was freaking out. Was this area safe? Was Lakeview safe?
To cure my curiosity, I called NOPD on Tuesday, March 12, and spoke to Officer Hilal Williams to check to see if what the lady said about abductions in the area was true. Williams said there have been no abductions around Lakeview, and her reassuring tone made me feel better.
The fact that I live in the same apartment complex as Monette and the fact that she went to a bar I like has nothing to do with her disappearance, but when scary things happen in your neighborhood, you tend to jump to conclusions and believe every rumor. From what the police told me, that woman who stopped me in the street had no reason to warn me about abductions, but I understand her worry. It’s scary to have something like this happen in your neighborhood, and if you think you know something that could keep everyone else safe, you want to share it.
I have no idea where Monette is or what happened to her, but I have been keeping her in my thoughts. My heart goes out to her family. While I love living in New Orleans, I do hate hearing about bad news, like Monette’s disappearance or the latest homicide. No city is perfect and while some neighborhoods are statistically safer than others, bad things can happen anywhere. I still like where I live and I’m sure Monette likes it, too, since she chose to live here. I can only hope that she’s okay and that she is found safe. Bad things happen everywhere, and we can only hope and pray that the ending is a happy one.
Please keep Monette and her family in your prayers. If you know anything about her whereabouts, please call NOPD at (504) 658-4000.