SANFORD — For the first time in the 21 days since Michelle Parker vanished, her mother seemed to lose her resolve.
The discovery of the missing woman's iPhone, found recently at the bottom of a lake in Belle Isle, was devastating for Yvonne Stewart who admitted publicly on Thursday that she fears her daughter may no longer be alive.
"It's become a lot more real to me that someone has done something terrible to my child," Stewart said during a short, emotional statement. "I cannot even begin to tell you how much pain my heart is in today. I want to find my daughter."
Until then, Stewart had remained outwardly hopeful and positive that her 33-year-old daughter would be found alive.
"I hate whoever did this to her," she said while standing with her husband Jeff Stewart outside of The Barn in Sanford. "She didn't deserve this."
A law-enforcement source told the Orlando Sentinel Thursday that the phone was found in water under a bridge that crosses over Lake Conway. It's not clear when divers located the phone, but a technology expert said the discovery could be a "treasure trove" of information for investigators.
Police have named Parker's ex-fiance, Dale Smith II, the sole suspect in her disappearance. He was the last person to see her on Nov. 17 when she dropped of their 3-year-old twins around 3:15 p.m. at his home on S. Semoran Boulevard.
Smith's lawyer Mark NeJame said his client immediately drove his children to his parent's home on Rose Boulevard and arrived there at 4:30 p.m.
The location where the cell phone was found is about half-way between Smith's condominium and the nine-mile route to his parent's home. Police have not charged Smith.
However, the discovery could be key in helping solve the case, said Hemu Nigam, founder of SSP Blue, a California-based Internet-safety company, and former prosecutor with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office.
"A person's entire world — photos, who they talk to, who they text, where they go — is stored on their phones," Nigam said. "Finding this phone is like finding a golden nugget."
Nigam said the iPhone frequently sends out 'pings' which could allow detectives to backtrack the movements of the device before it was powered down.
Detectives have previously said the phone last 'pinged' around 8 p.m. on Nov. 17 in the area of Oak Ridge Road, less than a mile from where it was found.