A decade of waiting for Brandy

Brandy Hanna has been missing since 2005.

It’s nearly impossible to recall what you were doing at any particular moment 10 years ago.

So much happens over the course of a decade, so many things change, that it all becomes a blur in the ocean of time.

But Donna Parent remembers exactly what she was doing on this day in 2005.

She couldn’t forget if she tried.

On May 20, 2005, Donna was working the second shift at Alex’s Restaurant on Dorchester Road, staring out the window and waiting for her daughter to call.

Brandy Renee Hanna had started at the restaurant in March, a waitressing job that gave her a chance to see her mother all the time. For two months, Donna and Brandy worked side-by-side and it was wonderful.

But on this day, Brandy was just getting off her shift when Donna got to work. So they saw each other only briefly around 3 that afternoon. They chatted by phone again a little before 6, but Donna expected to hear from her again — Brandy liked to talk.

Later that evening, Donna was looking out the window at Dorchester Road when she realized that Brandy hadn’t called back. A horrible feeling came over her.

“I knew that something was not right,” she remembers.

Donna immediately tried to call her daughter, but there was no answer.

And no one has seen Brandy Hanna since.

This evening, Coakley and Diane Hilton will host a remembrance ceremony for Brandy at their East Montague Avenue mortuary.

Brandy herself wouldn’t recognize a good number of the people there because, well, things change.

Since Brandy disappeared, she’s gained three nephews and a niece that shares her name. Her stepfather, Gary, has passed away. Monica Caison, founder and director of the CUE Center for Missing Persons, has become a friend of the family.

Donna’s life has changed quite a bit. She has worked at Breck’s steakhouse in North Charleston for nearly three years. It’s a good job, she says, less distracting than Alex’s.

There, she always expected Brandy to come walking through the door.

And why wouldn’t a mother hope for that? There has never been any evidence of a crime, no clues to Brandy’s disappearance. She just vanished, like thousands of adults do each year.

The longer a person is missing, the less chance there is of finding them. Donna knows this; she’s under no illusions. But as long as there are no answers, you can’t expect anyone to give up hope.

Donna does not call Wednesday’s ceremony a memorial service. It’s not. She is not ready for that, even though friends say they don’t know how she lives with it all, with not knowing.

“You have to live with it, for her,” she says. “If I don’t think about her, no one would.”

On May 20, 2005, Brandy sent a text message to a friend around 8 p.m. and checked her voicemail less than an hour later. Thirty minutes after that, she sent a text to a boyfriend.

And around 10:30 p.m., the friend she had texted earlier showed up and knocked on Brandy’s door. There was no answer.

In May 2005, the entire country was focused on the case of Natalee Holloway, a teen who had gone missing in Aruba. In comparison, it seemed no one cared where Brandy was. The police would not search for her for several days because adults — Brandy was 32 at the time — have a right to privacy. If the police followed up on every case of a woman not calling their mother, they wouldn’t have time for anything else.

But Donna knew something was wrong. When police did search her Florida Avenue apartment, they found nothing to suggest a crime scene. Brandy left behind her money and her clothes, and one huge mystery.

The police eventually interviewed her friends, gave an ex-boyfriend a polygraph test, but got nothing. It is one of the stranger missing persons cases in the country, and that’s saying something.

Every now and then, someone still comes in with a wild story, but so far nothing has panned out. Ron Lacher at the North Charleston Police Department keeps his file open, calls Donna all the time.

“He will follow any lead,” she says. “If she can be found, he will find her.”

Donna still hopes that any publicity she can get will lead to the break she and North Charleston police need.

“Somebody had to see something,” she says. “There is no perfect crime.”

So hopefully this remembrance ceremony will help someone do just that. That’s why Brandy’s family and friends are getting together, to help themselves, but mostly to help other folks remember Brandy.

Donna doesn’t need it, of course. She can’t forget.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com