MEDFORD — Terry Atchley just wants her daughter Melissa to come home.
She last spoke to the 30-year-old on March 26, 2011. Melissa Atchley was working in Portland and had called for her usual check-in on her two children, ages 3 and 6, who were in Terry's care.
Melissa said she would be back in Medford to see her the following week. Terry didn't sense anything was wrong.
But Melissa didn't come visit the next week. Three weeks later, she disappeared. Almost a year later, she's still missing, and Terry wants answers from police, who she says have not aggressively pursued the case.
The seeming lack of interest in the case, she says, is because of her daughter's profession — Melissa worked in Portland nightclubs as a stripper.
Melissa's sister, Danielle Atchley, agreed that the job seems to have affected police response.
"They say that's not why, but I feel that has something to do with it," Danielle said.
Atchley was last seen April 18, 2011, walking out of an apartment where she had been staying with a friend in Portland. She carried a small bag, but left a number of her personal effects behind, including her new laptop computer.
"She didn't go anywhere without her laptop," Danielle said, adding that her sister used it often in coffee shops where she could pick up free Wi-Fi to search for employment opportunities and update her MySpace and Facebook pages.
When Melissa went days without an update to her pages, Danielle knew something was wrong. The calls to check on her children also stopped, which family members said was out of the ordinary.
"My sister's always on her Facebook," Danielle said. "She's always called."
Portland police who took an initial report about Melissa's disappearance reviewed the facts, then suspended the case in April, Detective Mike Weinstein said.
"After talking to the reporting party, plus the mother and the sister, we were led to believe that the behavior was not unusual," he said.
Danielle said she had reported Melissa missing once before. That time, Melissa had simply turned off her phone, and she reappeared a day-and-a-half later.
Last summer, with Melissa still missing, police decided to reopen the case. It is currently a joint effort between Ashland and Portland police. Portland police see an average of 600 missing adult reports per year, Weinstein said.
Melissa is a 2000 graduate of Eagle Point High School. She worked at Clinique in the Rogue Valley Mall from about 2005 to 2008, Danielle said. Family members remember Melissa as a popular youth who loved celebrating all holidays and dyeing her hair.
She had started stripping in Portland two years before she disappeared. Her mother said she'd always talked about living in a big city such as Portland or Seattle and wanted to save money for beauty school. Her 6-year-old daughter is autistic, and she felt more services would be available to her there. Money was tight, and she needed to do something.
Melissa's decision to become a stripper concerned Terry and Danielle because of what they had heard about human-trafficking operations run out of Portland.
"I've always worried about it," Terry said.
Melissa returned to the Rogue Valley in November 2010 and then moved back to Portland in March 2011, returning to see her children briefly a few times before her disappearance. She spoke of a friend named Chris, family members said, who had gotten her the stripping jobs and who she said had been physically abusive. Danielle said Melissa indicated he was taking all the money she earned.
"I think he scared her," Terry said.
Police said they could not comment on anyone interviewed about the case.
Both Terry and Danielle are working with Michelle Bart of Helping Heroes productions and the Northwest Coalition Against Trafficking. Portland police say there is no indication human trafficking is involved in Melissa's disappearance, but that the investigation is still open and active.
"There are times where we simply have exhausted all of our investigative means," Weinstein said, adding at that point, officers will still take information on the case but will not devote as much investigative time.
Melissa's children are staying in Medford with the mother of the roommate who last saw Melissa before her disappearance. An attempt to reach the mother Wednesday was unsuccessful.
Terry Atchley's past drug use and recent evidence of drug use, this time by Danielle, see correction below, in the home contributed to the children being taken away by the Department of Human Services in August 2011.
Danielle, who lives with her mother, is trying to get certified to be a foster parent to get Melissa's children back, but officials have told her the likelihood is slim.
But Terry and Danielle said they aren't giving up yet — on getting the children back or seeing Melissa again.