Mich. family holds out hope to find missing daughter

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Virtually every day, Jeannie Verhille walks into her daughter’s empty bedroom and wonders where she is.

It has been nearly three months since Jenna, who recently was released from jail after battling drug issues, eager to start a newly landed waitressing job, left their Monroe County home and never returned.

None of the 26-year-old’s friends or family have heard from her since. Authorities have been working to find her and Crime Stoppers of Michigan continues to offer a $1,000 reward for tips. But as weeks pass without concrete leads, loved ones fear the worst.

“I just truly feel that there is something amiss,” Jeannie Verhille said. “There is something really wrong here.”

Protecting Jenna, she said, has been the family goal since they adopted her from another relative as a toddler.

An arts lover whose work adorned her family’s South Rockwood home, Jenna Verhille attended dance classes before graduating from Airport High School in Carleton and studying at Monroe County Community College, relatives said.

Several years ago, while Verhille worked at a restaurant, relatives noticed a change in the bubbly blonde woman’s behavior and learned she had started using heroin, her mother said.

In recent years, heroin use has skyrocketed in Michigan. Admissions for treatment climbed 187 percent across the state between 2000 and 2016, state Health Department data show. Deaths attributed to overdoses jumped 624 percent from 2000 through 2015.

Realizing the danger, Jeannie Verhille contends the family reported her daughter to law enforcement and arranged stints at rehabilitation facilities in Ann Arbor and Brighton. However, Jenna Verhille struggled and had troubles with the law.

“She still is this very intelligent, smart person that wants this really good life, but she got sucked into that drug,” her mother said.

Verhille received help while behind bars and, immediately after returning home last summer, discussed new plans. Talking for hours with her aunt, Joy Holloway, on Aug. 17, she described feeling “blessed” to find a job close to home and hoped to return to school, the older woman said.

Holloway, a social worker and former drug addict, was surprised since Verhille had seemed to avoid such interactions while facing challenges. “She was in such a mood that day that it was phenomenal,” the Lincoln Park resident said. “I really thought we were on a huge upswing.”

That afternoon, Verhille’s father Pascal heard her giving directions to the family home over the phone. Shortly after, he saw her cross the yard and enter a tan, mid-sized Ford vehicle that appeared to have an Ohio license plate in the front. A neighbor reported spotting a man behind the wheel.

Verhille had not mentioned any plans to meet up with anyone and took no belongings. Later that night, when she still hadn’t returned, Jeannie Verhille sent her daughter a text message to see if she would be returning home soon. Jenna replied that she wouldn’t, then failed to respond to further messages. Subsequent calls went straight to voice mail.

That weekend, relatives filed a missing person report with South Rockwood police. Investigators initially told them only so much could be pursued for a case involving an adult who appeared to leave voluntarily.

Darrin Wright, the community’s acting police chief, told the Monroe News last month his team had not found evidence suggesting foul play.

But relatives doubt said they doubt Verhille ran away. “She just never was gone this long without contacting one of us — ever,” Holloway said.

As time passed, the family turned to groups dedicated to finding missing people and promoting the case online. They also plastered numerous posters describing her: 5-foot-6, 125 pounds, an upper arm tattoo reading “Life won’t wait for you,” and another on her left shin reading “Just Dance.”

Learning from authorities about informants possibly glimpsing someone matching their daughter’s description, the Verhilles have also trekked to Detroit, Livonia and Ohio to follow up, seek witnesses and chase leads.

“We don’t know if she’s alive or dead,” her father said. “It’s just hard going out everyday and not knowing where she’s at.”

The case remains active, said Anthony Jones, a Crime Stoppers of Michigan spokesman.

While working around the clock to keep the details in the public eye, Jeannie Verhille constantly worries that her daughter is being held captive, forced into human trafficking or worse.

“She could have walked right into a huge problem and now she can’t get out,” she said. “She’s such a vital part of this family and we just want her back.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers by calling (800) SPEAK-UP, visiting or texting CSM and a tip to CRIMES (274637).