February 18 is typically a day for celebration for Laura Saxton. It’s her daughter’s birthday. But every year, two weeks earlier, she now marks another anniversary: the day that same daughter disappeared.
Kelsie Schelling was 21 years old and eight weeks pregnant when she vanished on Feb. 4, 2013. She had her first doctor’s visit and had seen a sonogram of her baby earlier that day.
After the trip to the doctor and a shift at work, the Denver woman drove two hours south to Pueblo to visit her boyfriend and the father of her child, Donthe Lucas.
But exactly what happened once Schelling got to Pueblo remains a mystery. She hasn’t been seen since.
Watch Liz Gelardi and James Dougherty's video version of this story in the player below or by clicking here.
What happened to Kelsie?
“Her phone was going straight to voicemail,” Saxton says.
On Feb. 7, Pueblo police found Schelling’s car, a black 2011 Chevy Cruze, at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in southern Pueblo. They pored over surveillance tape and found an unidentified black man had pulled up and parked it, then walked away.
Police started looking over surveillance footage from other businesses and discovered that Lucas had parked the car at a Walmart three miles west of the hospital on Feb. 5, the day after Schelling was last seen. She wasn’t with him in the video.
Then, police watched as video from Feb. 6 showed the unidentified man get in the car and drive off. He dropped the car at St. Mary-Corwin the next day and still hasn’t been identified.
But the location of the car proved noteworthy later, when Lucas told investigators he had at one point dropped Schelling off at Parkview Medical Center – almost 4.5 miles north of St. Mary-Corwin. Parkview confirmed Schelling was never there.
A lawsuit filed by Saxton and Schelling’s father in 2015 against Lucas, his family members and various members of the Pueblo Police Department that contains bits of the police investigation and unveils some of the details about the time leading up to Schelling’s disappearance.
It contains records of text messages Schelling and Lucas exchanged in the days leading up to her disappearance. Since the two agencies now handling the case consider it to be an open investigation, the details are not public record and were not released to Denver7.
The lawsuit has since been dropped, but is one of the only public documents that detail police records in the case.
According to the messages, Lucas had wanted Schelling to come down to visit him a day earlier, but she told him she had to make her Feb. 4 doctor’s visit. Eventually the next day, she agreed to come to visit him after she got off work.
She arrived at the same Walmart where Lucas was eventually seen with her car just before midnight Feb. 4, but Lucas wasn’t there. The two exchanged messages, and around 12:30 a.m., Schelling sent Lucas another message wondering why he still hadn’t shown up, according to the suit. It was the last time anyone knew she was alive.
At some point, Schelling left the Walmart and went to another address. Phone records show Lucas called her phone again just before 4 a.m. on Feb. 5 and that the two phones were close to one another at the time, according to the suit.
At 11:39 a.m., Lucas was seen at a Pueblo bank, where he allegedly withdrew $400 with Schelling’s debit card. Not long afterward, the Walmart surveillance video showed him dropping Schelling’s car off and being picked up. Saxton’s lawsuit says Lucas’ mother and grandmother were in that car.
Charges dropped against boyfriend; family gets scammed
Pueblo police eventually identified Lucas as a primary person of interest in Schelling’s disappearance and arrested him on felony identity theft and misdemeanor theft charges for allegedly using her debit card to make the withdrawal.
But the charges were dropped and no one else was arrested in connection with Schelling’s disappearance.
“It was pretty much a debacle from the beginning,” Saxton says.
She continues to have reservations about the work Pueblo detectives did on the case and maintains that she believes Lucas had something to do with her daughter vanishing.
The 2015 suit accuses the department of failing to properly process her car, not submitting evidence and lying to Saxton and her family about possible evidence found in and on the car.
It also claimed that the lead detective on the case failed to follow up on a tip from a fisherman who said he had hooked a woman’s body in Lake Minnequa, which sits in between the Walmart and the hospital where Schelling’s car was found.
But in October 2015, Saxton got a glimmer of hope when, through the Facebook page she started to find her daughter, a message arrived from someone saying Schelling was alive.
The mysterious messenger knew explicit details of the case and said Schilling wasn’t killed, but instead was human trafficked. The messenger told Saxton to bring $25,000 to a McDonald’s in Vancouver, Washington, and she’d get her daughter back.
She contacted local police to loop them in on the deal in case it was a set up. But before it could even take place, Vancouver police found out she was being scammed. Saxton was back to square one, her daughter still a ghost.
New investigators, increased reward bring hope
In Saxton’s mind, Lucas’ story just doesn’t add up – despite the fact that no formal charges relating to Schelling’s disappearance were ever filed against him. Pueblo police say he remains a person of interest because he was the last person known to see her alive. Requests to speak with Lucas for this story went unreturned.
“I have no doubt that Danthe – her boyfriend, the father of her child – is responsible for her disappearance,” she said. “I can’t sleep at night. I hope he can’t either.”
But she says she has hope that new leads will soon come in the case. The Pueblo Police Department has assigned a new lead detective to the case and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation joined on to assist last spring – a welcome sign, according to her, since she says the department had been reluctant to turn the entire case over to the bureau.
Pueblo police did not directly address the early days of the investigation when asked, but the department says it is hopeful that after four years, someone might be willing to break their silence about the case.
“I think Kelsie’s case is very solvable. I think it should’ve been solved a long time before now, and we’re not giving up…there will be a resolution to this,” Saxton says.
She says she hopes the added help from CBI, which is involved with a task force devoted to missing persons cases and cold cases in the state, will help turn up new evidence.
“We’re hopeful that somebody is going to see this and just say it’s time, the suffering needs to end,” Saxton says. “We’re just praying really hard about that – that someone will come forward with some piece of information that will lead us to where she is.”
The family doubled the reward for information on the whereabouts of Schelling or her remains to $100,000 for the month of February in the hopes of getting more leads.
CBI Director Michael Rankin says his when his team is brought in they re-examine and scrutinize the evidence and details collected in the case so far.
“I think that the starting point [is] let’s take a look at, first of all, what happened? What do we know? What’s been done to further that investigation, and then, where can the CBI plug in to further advance the investigation and hopefully the prosecution as well,” Rankin said.
He showed up to a Colorado Missing Persons Day Event organized by Saxton at the state Capitol in Denver on Feb. 3 to reinforce the agency’s support for families with missing loved ones. Dozens of families of missing people in the state and of cold case murder victims’ flanked him as he thanked her personally.
And the next day, on the anniversary of Schelling’s death, Saxton and other family members revisited the Walmart in Pueblo where the pregnant 21-year-old was last known to have been, releasing purple balloons in her memory and in the hopes her case will someday be solved.
“To lose somebody and to not know what happened to them, to not be able to have answers, to bury them, to honor them…your mind constantly runs,” Saxton says. “I hope she’s found. I pray to God she’s found.”
Schelling would have celebrated her 26th birthday on Feb. 18.
Anyone who may have information regarding Kelsie Schelling’s disappearance is asked to contact the Pueblo Police Department at 719-553-2538 or Colorado Bureau of Investigation at 303-239-4300. Saxton has also created a website dedicated to helping find her daughter.
The Family of Homicide Victims and Missing Persons is also a resource for families of murdered and missing persons and does extensive work in Colorado.