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Less than three hours after Phoenix Coldon was last seen by her family pulling out the driveway of her St. Louis-area home, her SUV was reportedly found abandoned and still running in the middle of an East St. Louis street.
The story goes that some of her belongings, including glasses and a pair of shoes, were still in the car, but the 23-year-old was nowhere to be found.
Whatever happened during that short window of time—that could have been even shorter according to some witness reports—would forever alter the course of Coldon’s life. Nearly seven years later, her family and friends remain baffled about what happened that December afternoon in 2011 to the young woman her parents described as funny, musically talented, and deeply religious.
Over the years, as new clues have emerged, several theories have formed about why Coldon, who also held a number of secrets, may have vanished just one week before Christmas.
Investigative reporter Shawndrea Thomas and retired deputy Police Chief Joe Delia delve into those theories in a cross-country search to find the truth in "The Disappearance of Phoenix Coldon," a two-night special event premiering on Oxygen November 3 at 7/6c.
"We touched on all the elements of her life," Thomas told Oxygen.com. "At least the ones we could find out about."
While there are many theories about what may have happened to Coldon, here are three that have been considered:
1. She Was Abducted By Sex Traffickers:
Coldon seemingly vanished in a depressed and crime-ridden part of East Saint Louis, a nearly 30-minute drive from her home. Reportedly, her SUV was left in the middle of a traffic lane, still running, almost as if she had been suddenly interrupted during her drive.
The area is known for being a hotspot for human trafficking.
"The St. Louis metro region is one of the top 20 areas in the country for human trafficking," State Rep. Nathan Tate, R-St. Clair, said in a statement posted by the Missouri Sheriff's Association.
Interstate-70, which Thomas referred to as "the sex trafficking highway of America" runs straight through the city and provides easy access to anyone looking to move goods, or humans, for nefarious purposes.
While there is no official estimate of human trafficking victims in the United States, Polaris, an organization aimed at preventing human trafficking, estimates that the number reaches into the hundreds of thousands.
"It happens here in suburban America," Thomas said.
Coldon has been missing for nearly seven years and although Thomas questioned whether someone who had been trafficked would be able to stay off the radar for so long, one of the experts she spoke with said it was possible.
2. She Met With Some Other Form of Foul Play:
After Coldon disappeared all activity on her bank accounts, cell phone and social media accounts seemed to abruptly halt, suggesting she may have met with some form of foul play that ended in her death that December afternoon.
However, Coldon’s body has never been found and police have told Thomas there was no other DNA found in the SUV other than Coldon's and her parents.
It's still suspicious, however, that Coldon vanished seemingly without any trace. Thomas said police have remained tight-lipped about many of the details of the case making it difficult to know exactly what transpired the day she disappeared.
Coldon's parents, Lawrence and Goldia Coldon, have suggested that during the months before she disappeared she may have gotten involved with the "wrong people," according to a 2012 article in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In the same article former St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch told the paper he was "absolutely concerned about her safety" and said few leads have come in about her current whereabouts.
"Bottom line is she hasn't been found, and we're not going to stop looking for her," he said.
Thomas said her investigation was able to show little evidence of foul play; however, there is much about the case that is still unknown.
She was able to find evidence to suggest that in the months leading up to her death, Coldon had been linked to multiple different men.
Coldon also was known to keep secrets both from her parents and her friends.
"I think that none of her friends truly knew her," Thomas said. "They only knew certain parts of her."
Many of the people Thomas thought were Coldon’s friends also refused to speak to her for the new investigation, still leaving open the possibility that there were secrets to Coldon's life that still remain a mystery.
3. She Ran Away
Another persistent theory is that Coldon may have willingly run away. Thomas said during their investigation they did find evidence to suggest that Coldon may have "left on her own,” although it's unclear what she may have been running from or running to that afternoon.
"Maybe some of the friends who wouldn't talk to us would know that," she said.
There have also been multiple reported sightings of Coldon since she disappeared.
"There were alleged sightings of her, so she might be living somewhere as a soccer mom in Iowa somewhere with three kids, who knows, with a whole new name and identity," Thomas said.
Those sightings, however, have never been confirmed.
Her parents have also repeatedly refuted that theory.
"Phoenix had everything that she needed and most of the things that she wanted, so I couldn't see any reason why she would want to run away from that," Lawrence Coldon said on an episode of Real Talk With Tamara, a show that investigated the case.
With few leads to go on, there remain many unanswered questions about what really did happen to Coldon that December afternoon and police haven't drawn any conclusions.
"Everything is still on the table," Thomas said. "They haven't ruled out anything."
Police Officer Benjamin Granda, a media relations officer for the St. Louis County Police Department, said his department has exhausted every lead, tip or evidence it has received and remains committed to the investigation.
Phoenix has not been forgotten by any means," he told Oxygen.com. "Our Department is ready and prepared to dedicate any and all resources necessary should additional information become available in this case."
[Photos: Provided by Goldia Coldon]
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