“A black hole opened up and she fell in...”
by Robert A. Waters
Twenty-five years. In the span of time, it’s nothing. But to the family of a missing child, it’s a lifetime. On the afternoon of February 22, 1985, eight-year-old Cherrie Ann Mahan stepped off her school bus with several other children. The kids scattered towards home, each going separate ways. When the dust cleared, Cherrie was gone. Vanished. Disappeared into the dark fog of time. The question remains unanswered: who snatched the brown-haired, brown-eyed girl with the beautiful smile?
It was about 4:00 p.m., and Cherrie was slightly more than fifty yards from her family’s mobile home in Winfield, Pennsylvania when she went missing. Due to the cold weather, she wore a gray coat, blue denim skirt, blue leg warmers, beige ankle boots, and brown earmuffs bearing the logo of a Cabbage Patch doll.
An article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review outlined the events surrounding the disappearance: “Cherrie's stepfather, Leroy McKinney, usually drove her the 50 yards from the bus stop at Cornplanter and Winfield roads in Winfield to the family's mobile home at the end of a steep, wooded driveway. The home was not visible from the road. But that day, [Leroy and his wife Janice] decided to let Cherrie walk [home].”
Leroy heard the bus pull up and leave. But when Cherrie hadn’t arrived within a few minutes, he drove down to the bus stop to check on her. She was nowhere to be found. Leroy raced back home and Janice called police.
The only real clue in two and a half decades was the sighting of a unique-looking van. After interviewing neighbors and the children on the school bus, investigators determined that a bright blue or green 1976 Dodge van had been seen following the bus. It had an unusual mural painted on it that covered the entirety of both sides of the van. The painting showed a snow-capped mountain with a skier headed down the mountain. The skier was dressed in red and yellow clothing.
Now it should have been easy to find that van. But alas, the vehicle was never located. As the years drained away, Pennsylvania State Trooper Frank Jedesky continued to work the case. Commenting on the mysterious van, he recently said, “By now it’s probably in a junkyard or somewhere.”
“It's the not knowing that kills you,” a heart-broken Janice McKinney said. “Every day you wonder and you look at some girl who's 33 and you wonder, ‘Is that her?’ I look at little kids and wonder, ‘Is that my grandchild?’”
Janice speaks of her child today as if Cherrie had fallen into a black hole. The pain never leaves, never goes away.
Who took Cherrie Mahan? Why did no one report that unusual van to police? Today, someone might still remember it. If so, please call the Pennsylvania State Police Missing Persons Unit at 1-412-284-8100.