Crime

Parents of missing UMKC student remain prayerful, determined to find her

Mother thinks missing UMKC student is a victim of human trafficking

Toni Anderson, a 2014 East High graduate, went missing on Jan. 15 and was last seen in Kansas City. Her mother, Liz, talked to Wichita Eagle reporter Bryan Horwath in February about how difficult the search for her daughter had been and what she b
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Toni Anderson, a 2014 East High graduate, went missing on Jan. 15 and was last seen in Kansas City. Her mother, Liz, talked to Wichita Eagle reporter Bryan Horwath in February about how difficult the search for her daughter had been and what she b

When the forecast called for inclement weather seven weeks ago, Liz Anderson sent a text urging her daughter to stay home and avoid the potentially icy, rain-slicked and hazardous roads.

In a reply text, the 20-year-old University of Missouri-Kansas City student said she would comply with her mother’s wishes and simply stay put.

But that didn’t happen.

While not ruling out foul play, Kansas City police think that around 6 a.m. Jan. 15, Toni Anderson likely wrecked her black 2014 Ford Focus on some rural, desolate roadway.

The accident may have happened far away from where any high-definition, sonar detectors or other aerial tracking devices would have been able to locate her.

It will be seven weeks on Sunday when Anderson left her job at Chrome strip club around 4 a.m. and was reportedly on her way to meet friends at another strip club near downtown. But she was pulled over miles away 30 minutes later by a North Kansas City police officer for an illegal lane usage.

Anderson never connected with her friends — and what happened afterward has frustrated her family and friends and created a wave of rumors and speculation on internet blogs and social media.

“It’s been a nightmare that doesn’t end until we find her, and that is exactly what it is like,” her mother said. “I am trying to be as strong as I possibly can for my daughter to find her, and to keep her name and face out there as much as possible.”

The quick text exchange in January was the last time Liz Anderson communicated with her daughter.

Kansas City police missing persons investigators say they are examining two possible theories of what might have happened to Toni Anderson.

The first — and most likely — theory is that she was involved in a traffic accident, and authorities have yet to find the location. Anderson worked late that night, and the inclement weather created icy roads. Investigators know that Anderson was driving in an unfamiliar area.

“Fatigue, bad weather lends itself to the possibility of a traffic accident, like running off the roadway,” said Sgt. Ben Caldwell, a supervisor with the Police Department’s missing persons, cold case section. “That is still probably our strongest possibility at this point.”

The second theory is that Anderson was the victim of foul play. Police will investigate that possibility until they learn otherwise, as is standard in missing persons probes.

“There is nothing to indicate that there was foul play, but we are treating it as if it was foul play until we learn something differently,” he said.

But the crash theory is the most logical and makes the most sense based on the evidence police have amassed so far, Caldwell said.

After Anderson was pulled over in North Kansas City, the officer directed her to a QuikTrip not far away at 26th and Burlington streets, because she was running low on gas.

Anderson tried to pay for gas at the pump, but her debit card was declined. She went inside to pay, came out and filled up her gas tank. All of this was captured on the store’s video surveillance camera, Caldwell said.

At 4:42 a.m., Anderson sent a friend a text message from the QuikTrip parking lot: “OMG OMG just got pulled over again.”

For some reason, Anderson remained at QuikTrip until 4:49 a.m. and then drove north to parts unknown, Caldwell said.

Investigators think Anderson traveled westbound along the Missouri 9 corridor between Kansas City and Parkville. She remained in that area until 6 a.m.

They also said the GPS device that was plugged into a slot beneath the dashboard malfunctioned, or Anderson unplugged it. Anderson used the device for auto insurance purposes after she received a number of traffic citations.

On three separate occasions, Kansas City police, along with the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, used sonar, aerial cameras and other high-definition devices to search bodies of water and other areas.

They also conducted extensive searches near the Shady Lady club on East 12th Street because that is where Anderson told the officer in North Kansas City she was going to meet her friends, Caldwell said.

Liz Anderson believes her daughter was a victim of human trafficking because those searches turned up empty.

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“I think she was lured somewhere, and somebody took her,” said Liz Anderson. “I believe all along that’s what happened. She didn’t run away, she loved her life.”

Caldwell said they’ve found nothing to support the human trafficking theory, but “anything is possible,” he said.

Toni Anderson grew up in Wichita and moved to Kansas City less than two years ago. In high school, she was a swimmer and earned money during the summer working as a lifeguard at a local YMCA. Anderson also gave swimming lessons to children while she attended Wichita State University.

She transferred to UMKC, where she wrote an entertainment blog for The Noctural Times. Anderson loved to travel and delighted in writing about food and places she had visited, her mother said.

“She was doing everything that she wanted to be doing,” Liz Anderson said. “I was happy for her to see that she had enough chutzpah to move on and do something bigger and better than staying in a small town like Wichita.”

News that Toni Anderson worked as a server at a strip club was a surprise but not a total disappointment to her parents.

“She wasn’t stripping, she was making good money,” Liz Anderson said. “Honestly, that is not what you want your daughter to be doing.

“Toni was raised in a very good home, her parents love her and she was well protected and cared for all of her life. She had a dream childhood.”

Police said there is nothing to connect Toni Anderson’s work at the strip club to her disappearance.

Liz Anderson said she remains prayerful that authorities will find her daughter.

“I know that somebody’s got her. Somebody’s got her,” she said. “Where could she go? You can’t up and disappear.”

Anyone with information should contact KCPD’s Missing Persons at 816-234-5136 or the Tips Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (8477).

Glenn E. Rice: 816-234-4341, @GRicekcstar

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