Wednesday evening the friends and family of Brandy Renee Hanna gathered at Alex's Restaurant in North Charleston to release balloons in her honor.

They prayed, had cake and talked about Brandy. They caught up on family news and made promises to see each other again soon.

Which means they will likely meet again at the next ceremony — because unfortunately there is no end in sight.

It's been seven years now. Brandy went missing on May 20, 2005. She worked her shift at Alex's, caught a ride home with a customer, then talked to her mother by phone later that evening.

And then, nothing. Brandy's is one of the most baffling missing-persons cases North Charleston police have ever seen. They never really found even one useful clue. She just vanished, leaving behind all her belongings. Not to mention a mother to suffer through these ceremonies every year.

Brandy's mother, Donna Parent, keeps all this going.

She has hosted all the balloon releases and candlelight vigils, which are scheduled around Brandy's November birthday and the date of her disappearance. Parent handles all this with grace and courage. She is a rock.

For years she has lived through the false clues and false promises of people who say they will help. But every time there's been a glimmer of hope, it quickly fades.

“It's like a nightmare you never wake up from,” she says.

These days, her grandchildren keep her going — all of them boys, all of them born since Brandy disappeared. Now she has a granddaughter on the way, and her son and daughter-in-law will give the baby Brandy's middle name.

Parent cried when they told her.

Parent was hopeful last month when “America's Most Wanted” aired a segment on Brandy, but she heard nothing from it.

It's just another frustrating element of this case. Could something have happened without anyone seeing anything? But in seven years, no one has said a word.

The trouble with a case like Brandy's is that the trail goes cold quickly. And Parent was upset that police did not move fast enough when she first reported Brandy missing.

State Rep. David Mack has been trying to pass “Brandy's Law” to set new guidelines for when police should begin a missing-persons investigation. The bill has languished in the Legislature while law enforcement types debate it.

A missing adult is a touchy subject for police, something that treads into privacy rights. It's hard to tell who is in danger and who just wants to be left alone. Police will tell you that if they went looking for every adult reported missing, they'd do little else.

Still, that leaves one important question unanswered.

“At what point do you declare someone missing?” Mack asks.

For Donna Parent, the answer is: not soon enough. She has to live with that every day. “I'd give anything just to know where she is, what happened to her,” she says.

Donna Parent, and Brandy, deserve that much.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.