By Chloe Morrison
ROCK SPRING, Ga. -- Tears came to Carol Cannon's eyes as she spoke about missing Walker County 911 dispatcher Theresa Parker, even though she didn't know Mrs. Parker personally.
"(My daughter) asked us when we first got here, 'Is this a party because they found her? Is she going to be there tonight, too, Mama,' " Mrs. Cannon said. "I had to tell her no. It is hard. (Theresa) has become family to all of us."
More than 100 people, including family and friends, gathered Monday night at the Walker County Agriculture Center for a benefit dinner to raise money in Mrs. Parker's name.
The money was collected in the form of donations for face painting, a barbecue dinner and children's rides and games. Family members said the money will be added to the reward fund for anyone who provides information that leads to Mrs. Parker's return. If the money is not used for a reward, it will be put toward raising awareness about domestic violence, family members said.
Mrs. Parker has been missing since March 21 and was last seen when she left her sister's house. Mrs. Parker's estranged husband, Sam Parker, is a "person of interest" in the case, said Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials.
Carolyn Wooten, Mr. Parker's sister, has said her brother had nothing to do with Mrs. Parker's disappearance.
Mr. Parker was fired from his job at the LaFayette Police Department after investigators found C-4 plastic explosives in his locker at the department while investigating the case. LaFayette Public Safety Director Tommy Freeman stressed that Mr. Parker's dismissal as a sergeant had nothing to do with the disappearance of Mrs. Parker, but that it was the reason for the search.
Mrs. Parker's brother-in-law Jonathan Wilson and sister Christina Hall said it is important to keep their missing loved one in the public eye. Mr. Wilson said the vigils that have been conducted previously are sad and reminded him of a memorial service, but this event was meant to be more upbeat and positive.
LaFayette band 90 Proof performed classic songs like Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison," while children slid down oversized inflatable slides. Barbecue was served and a raffle drawing helped add to the reward fund. Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell was there.
"I want to help them raise money, and I'm hungry," Mrs. Heiskell said.
Christie Boatwright attended, even though she didn't know Mrs. Parker. She said she wants to support Mrs. Parker's family.
"(I want to) keep the awareness that she is still missing and that we don't need to forget about her," Mrs. Boatwright said.
Mrs. Cannon's husband, Bill, has known Mrs. Parker for more than 28 years.
"She was a very kind, very loving, very outgoing, but yet she was reserved," Mr. Cannon said. "She was just a person who would do anything for you at any given time."
Mr. Cannon said he never could have imagined her disappearance until it happened.
"I come home every evening and say (to my wife) 'Is there anything you heard,' and it is kind of disheartening when she has to tell me, 'no' " Mr. Cannon said.
Christina Hall, Mrs. Parker's sister, said there are more events planned. Tentatively, family and friends want to continue raising money by having a community yard sale and a motorcycle run.
"We've got to keep active because if we don't, we feel like we are failing Theresa," Mrs. Hall said. "We have just got to keep fighting for her."
So far, nearly $5,000 has been raised.
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