‘She was always smiling’: Community mourns after missing 6-year-old SC girl found dead

Body of missing South Carolina first-grader found

CAYCE, S.C. — Police announced Thursday that they found the body of a missing South Carolina first-grader.

Faye Swetlik had been missing since Monday.

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Police said a homicide investigation was underway and no arrests had been made.

Investigators said they also found the body of a male in the same neighborhood but couldn’t say if the two were connected.

The search for the missing 6-year-old girl had entered its fourth day before investigators made the tragic discovery around 11 a.m.

“It is with extremely heavy hearts that we are announcing that we have found the body that the coroner has identified as Faye Marie Swetlik,” said Cayce Department of Public Safety Director Byron Snellgrove in an emotional news conference Thursday afternoon. “As this community has been working hard to find Faye and bring her home safely, we wanted you to know as soon as possible.”

Channel 9′s Greg Suskin spoke to community members just an hour before hearing of Faye’s death. They all said just how much the little girl meant to the community.

“She was always smiling. I’ve never seen her mad or sad," said Brandi Edmond.

Edmond is an employee at a Circle K that Faye and her mother would often visit.

“Most of the time, you hear her mom say, ‘Get what you want and come to the register.’ She always gets a pink donut," she said.

Detectives released images late Wednesday night of two vehicles they said were spotted in the neighborhood on Monday around the time Faye vanished. They think the drivers could have information about Faye’s disappearance.

On Thursday, officials said they had identified the Chevrolet Trailblazer and spoke to the driver, but they were still looking for information about the silver sedan.

Police had pushed media members back from the family’s home and blocked entrances into the Churchill Heights neighborhood in order to limit the number of people coming in.

Channel 9 crews could see investigators looking through neighbors’ trash cans on Thursday morning.

Investigators said they had no evidence that Faye was kidnapped, but had also not ruled out an abduction or that she walked away from her home or was harmed by someone she knew.

While we grieve for Faye and try to process this tragedy, we want to ensure you that our work continues and want to let...

Posted by Cayce Department of Public Safety on Thursday, February 13, 2020

“We’re still exploring every possibility to bring Faye home," Cayce Public Safety Officer Sgt. Evan Antley said. “This is the largest scale investigation I’ve ever been a part of. Our goal remains to bring Faye home.”

More than 200 police officers, family members and volunteers were searching for the 6-year-old girl last seen shortly after she got off the school bus near her Cayce, South Carolina home.

Antley told the media on Thursday that investigators have gone to every door in the neighborhood, and that if they’ve missed speaking with someone that other officers are following up.

He also confirmed that vehicles had been towed from the neighborhood and Faye’s home had been searched several times as part of the investigation but could not share any more information, only saying that such procedures were “normal in a case of this nature.”

Another detail Antley shared was that investigators were looking through trash trucks and were also looking in and around the landfill, searching for even the smallest piece of evidence while leaving no stone unturned in their effort to bring Faye home.

According to the Cayce Department of Public Safety, Faye was last seen playing in front of her home after getting off the school bus in the Churchill Heights neighborhood of the city.

On Wednesday, officials released video from that school bus, which shows the first-grader getting off the bus before walking to her house not far away.

The video shows her leaving her seat, wearing a backpack and a black T-shirt with the word “peace” on it. She appears to turn back and possibly speak to the driver before stepping off and meeting her mother. Faye’s mother told police she walked with her daughter to their house and that Faye grabbed a snack before heading outside to play around 3:45 p.m.

That’s the last time she told police she saw Faye.

Authorities shut down the neighborhood Wednesday to everyone except residents, police and people who had business to conduct there.

“We don’t want to have to worry about everyone else coming through there that’s not a part of this investigation,” said Antley.

A sheriff’s deputy was stopping every car that drove onto Churchill Heights.

Authorities in Cayce tweeted Wednesday night they will be working overnight to follow up on the hundreds of tips they have received.

A neighbor said she saw Faye's mother when she realized her daughter was gone. That neighbor, Faye Millhouse, said she was with her own daughter at a nearby Circle K between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Monday. She said she saw Faye's mother crying and asking people for help.

“I was in the store, and the mother came in the store and asked the cashier, ‘Have you seen my daughter?’” Millhouse said.

After the cashier said no, Faye’s mother ran out the door, Millhouse said.

“We have received a lot of (doorbell and security) videos, and our investigators are working around the clock to go through those videos and look for leads and information that will lead us to bringing Faye home,” said Antley.

Police also expanded the search to an area just outside the neighborhood, from Airport Boulevard to Interstate 26.

Faye’s family spoke about how they’re feeling, describing what they’re going through as “horrific, crazy and a nightmare.”

A community prayer vigil was held Tuesday night, and it was very emotional.

Both a family friend and Faye's grandmother said they have no idea what happened to the girl, but they are trying to stay positive.

“A lot of prayer -- we’re worried, of course, very distraught,” said Monica Foutz, a family friend. “But we’re only thinking positive thoughts.”

“I want my baby back,” said Faye’s grandmother, Ruth Collins. “We gotta find her.”

Other parents in the neighborhood told Channel 9 that only four kids get off the bus there and they saw Faye on Monday.

Police said Faye got off the bus and went home but around 3:45 p.m. her family could not find her. By 5 p.m., they called police to help look for her.

Swetlik lived with her mother and officials said her mother was home when she got off the bus and around the time she disappeared. Authorities said Faye’s mother, father and her mother’s boyfriend have been cooperating with the investigation.

“We have more questions than answers ... but the top question we have right now is, ‘Where is Faye?'” said Lexington County Sheriff’s spokesman Capt. Adam Myrick.

Faye had strawberry blonde hair and blue eyes. The last time she was seen, the first-grader was wearing polka dot rain boots, a flower print skirt and a black t-shirt with neon colors.

Faye was lactose intolerant and had a speech impediment with a tethered tongue, according to police.

Her family described her personality as bubbly.

An Amber Alert had not been issued.

Officials said the following criteria must be met for an Amber Alert to be activated:

  • A law enforcement agency or agencies must believe the child has been abducted,
  • If the child is under 17 and the agency believes they’re in immediate danger or serious harm,
  • All other possibilities for the disappearance have been reasonably excluded,
  • There is sufficient information available to give to the public,
  • The child’s name and other critical data have been entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC).

Police did not answer questions Wednesday about why they don’t think the little girl was abducted, or why the search has remained very close to her home.

Faye’s information had been entered into NCIC as a missing person, officials said.

Channel 9′s South Carolina bureau reporter Greg Suskin said he saw several agencies, including the FBI, stopping traffic, talking to drivers who are passing through the community where she lives.

The SLED helicopter was seen circling the area and officials said 250 people were searching, but that does not include the many neighbors who have been involved in the search. Fire and rescue groups also searched, using ATVs to comb wooded areas behind the neighborhood.

Channel 9 spoke with several neighbors who said they don’t know the family, but they have been up since Monday night to help find the little girl.

Neighbor Kathy Newell said she and her husband John have never met Faye or her family, but still, they could not sleep Monday night thinking about her so they joined the search.

“I have a granddaughter that’s the same age, and you never think that it will hit this close to home," Newell said. "I was up until 2:30 this morning, searching, looking, walking up and down the road. I just couldn’t believe what was going on. I just seemed unreal to me.”

Tammy Wesley, who said her son rides the bus with Faye, said she saw her Monday morning and afternoon.

“It could have been any one of our children. I just want to find her safe, unharmed,” Wesley said. “I grew up in this area. It’s very safe. Very safe. I let my kids go up and down the street on their bikes.”

Anyone living in the neighborhood who has home security video was asked to contact the police department. Flyers had also been posted in businesses in the area.

“We have found some surveillance video that has helped us,” said Snellgrove. “We’re also following up every lead that we get and we’re gonna go until it’s exhausted. When she walks into a room she brightens it up. Everyone loves Faye. Faye loves dresses, fancy shoes, spending time with her family, cats and playing outside.”

Pictures of Faye are still hanging in store windows as community members remember the special mark the little girl left on their hearts.

A waitress at a Waffle House nearby said she would serve Faye nearly every Saturday morning.

“Very energetic and talkative, so as a waitress, we’d carry on conversations. The last thing she said was she was going to buy guitar strings for her cousin for his birthday," said waitress Tina Dyches.

Thursday night, there is a growing memorial in front of Faye’s school, Springdale Elementary. People were seen bringing flowers, balloons, and also hugs to console one another.

“When you’re that young, you’re innocent and you can’t defend yourself. God only knows what happened,” said Cayce resident Joann Hellems.

Trinity Baptist Church also opened its doors to comfort and console those mourning.

“Just can’t believe it happened in our community,” said Pastor Micah Merchant.

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The school where Faye attended sent the following information to families:

Dear Springdale Families:

We have some heart-breaking news to share. Faye Swetlik, a first-grader who has been the subject of media reports this week and an intensive search effort, has passed away.

We contacted you earlier this week, to share with you some of the efforts here at school to support our students and staff. That support will be more important than ever in coming days, as our community grieves the loss of this little girl. Our goal here at Springdale is to listen and to reassure our students and to keep the school day as normal as we possibly can during this difficult time.

We will have extra district and school counselors on hand in coming days, talking with students, teachers and staff. They will be available to meet one-on-one with your child should the need arise.

We know how hard something like this is even for adults to understand. We are sending home some general tips about how you can talk with your child about this.

If you are worried about how your child is doing, please do not hesitate to contact our school. We are here to support your students through this.

Sincerely,

Hope Vrana

Principal

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Police have not said how Faye died but said there is no danger to the community. Officials said an autopsy will be conducted Saturday.

Detectives called the investigation fluid and did not answer any questions after Thursday afternoon’s press conference.

Anyone with information that would help authorities with this homicide investigation is asked to call the #FayeSwetlik hotline at 1-803-205-4444.