By Chloe Morrison
ROCK SPRING, Ga. -- After more than five months with no sign of the missing 911 dispatcher, Theresa Parker's job at the Walker County emergency center has been filled -- but for coworker Rebecca Brown the mention of her friend and co-worker still evokes tears.
"Nobody will be able to fill her shoes," Mrs. Brown said. "It is just a position that is having to be filled, but not to take her place, because nobody will ever take her place."
Director of Walker County's 911 center David Ashburn said Mrs. Parker's 911 supervisor job was filled about three weeks ago by Christy Hicks, who was friends with and trained under Mrs. Parker. Ms. Hicks was promoted from dispatcher to supervisor and Walker County will also hire another dispatcher, Mr. Ashburn said.
"I didn't (fill the position) for a long time, and part of that was because it gives you the opinion that something is more permanent," Mr. Ashburn said.
Mr. Ashburn said he waited for months out of respect for Mrs. Parker's coworkers.
"When I made that step, it was like she is really gone," he said.
Mrs. Parker was last seen on March 21 after leaving her sister's house.
She and her husband, former LaFayette police officer Sam Parker, were in the process of a divorce. He is being called a "person of interest" in the case by Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials. Mr. Parker's friend and former co-worker Harbin "Ben" Chaffin has been charged with four felonies related to the investigation.
Initially, press conferences and high-profile searches for Mrs. Parker were frequent.
But the careers of the missing woman and her husband to the law enforcement community led Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin to remove himself from the case in April because of potential conflict of interest.
When Rome Judicial Circuit District Attorney Leigh Patterson was appointed to handle the case, she quickly put a lid on any talk about the case and investigation.
Family and friends said they know the investigation is still active, but it is hard to wait.
Walker County 911 Dispatcher April Yoder said she is "very impatient" for news of her friend and co-worker.
Hilda Wilson, Mrs. Parker's sister, said she feels the investigation is being pursued, but is "a little discouraged that it has drug out this long.
"It is very much an ongoing thing" Mrs. Wilson said. "They are still working on it (and we) are very grateful."
Mrs. Wilson said she is "determined to somehow see this through," but said she realized that she had to let some normalcy back into her life.
"I learned about a month ago that I have to resume my life," she said. "I had put every single thing on hold."
Work at the 911 center goes on too, but Mrs. Parker's "missing person" status leaves loose ends, Mr. Ashburn said.
Mrs. Parker's last paycheck has been deposited back into the county's account, he said.
There is no money going into her pension plan, but it continues to draw interest.
Her health insurance has been canceled because no payments have been made in recent months -- but all those situations could change if Mrs. Parker appeared, Mr. Ashburn said.
"If she was to show up tomorrow, we would discuss why she missed work and those type things, but there is the potential that she would go back on the job," Mr. Ashburn said.
Mrs. Parker's birthday is Sept. 9, and her family and friends will release balloons during a gathering at the park behind the Walker County Civic Center, Mrs. Wilson said. One of Mrs. Wilson's daughters wrote a poem that will be read and she said the family wants to invite the public and anyone who has tragically lost a loved one before to participate in the event.
Mrs. Hicks said Mrs. Parker would have wanted her 911 emergency dispatch position to be filled, and Mr. Ashburn said part of working in emergency services is carrying on through tragedy.
"For the good of everybody, including her family members who live in this community, we have to continue on," he said. "We have to be there to meet the needs of the public as a whole."
But event after more than five months, attempts at normalcy are often futile, co-workers and family said.
"We still sit there and talk about good times and we've sat and cried," Mrs. Hicks said. "We still have our days where we sit and cry."
E-mail Chloe Morrison at firstname.lastname@example.org