Diana Smith thumbs through a yellowed photo album that contains pictures of her daughter, Misty Copsey, first as a smiling baby girl, then a precocious toddler.
On the pages where her blossoming teenage years should be, news clippings about her disappearance fill the space.
That’s because Misty never came home after visiting the Puyallup Fair on Sept. 17, 1992, and is presumed dead. She was 14 years old.
Now Puyallup police are asking people to look through their own photo albums for pictures from in or around the Puyallup Fairgrounds on that date more than 21 years ago. Even a seemingly small detail -- a face in the background, a glimpse of the blue sweater Misty may have been wearing -- could yield a clue in the cold case.
Who was she with? When was she last seen at the fair? These are questions police detectives hope to answer by searching other people’s images from that day.
Police Det. Don Bourbon admits it’s a long shot. And Smith said she’s not optimistic that anything will come of it. Then again, it might.
“If something comes of it, it would be a wonderful thing,” Smith said. “You never know who could’ve seen her down there. They could’ve seen her and not realized what they were seeing.”
The FBI had success earlier this year identifying the culprits of the Boston Marathon bombings in part due to photos and videos people submitted from smartphones and other digital devices. In 1992, however, technology was much less advanced. Back then, people captured pictures on film, which then had to be processed on paper in a darkroom. Home videos were taken on VHS recorders the size of a shoebox.
Already Puyallup Police detectives have scoured 142 photos provided by the Puyallup Fair, Bourbon said. Misty wasn’t in any of them.
In 2009, a News Tribune series, “The Stolen Child,” exposed gaps, miscues and oversights in the original inquiry into Copsey’s disappearance by Puyallup Police and other law enforcement agencies. Spurred by the story, a new generation of investigators rebooted the case.
Police insisted Copsey was a runaway, then later pursued her case as an active homicide investigation. It is now considered a cold case. Bourbon has a picture of Misty on his office wall, as well as those of two other missing persons.
“We were sitting around at one of our cold-case meetings and we started throwing out ideas,” Bourbon said, explaining the new appeal for photographs from the public.
Misty called her mother Sept. 17, 1992 from downtown Puyallup to say she missed her bus home after a night out with a friend, according to reports. She never returned home.
In 1993, jeans, socks and underwear were found in a ditch along State Route 410. Forensic evidence wasn’t able to link the clothes to Copsey, but her mother said the jeans belonged to the missing girl.
Bourbon doesn’t expect a huge volume of pictures from that day, when Huey Lewis and The News was the headline act at the grandstand. Most people were probably focused on family and friends.
Still, he asks that pictures and video be emailed to Bourbon at email@example.com, or mailed to attention Detective Bourbon, 311 W. Pioneer Ave., Puyallup, WA 98371.