PITTSBURGH,None — Cherrie Mahan was 8 when she vanished from a bus stop near her home in Butler County.
A picture of the smiling, brown-haired girl would be the first featured on direct-mail fliers like those now sent weekly to tens of millions of U.S. homes with a simple message: "Have you seen me?"
Monday marks 25 years since Cherrie disappeared.
Although she's never been found, the fliers are credited with helping to recover 149 other missing children, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The idea for the fliers came after advertising executive Vincent Giuliano, who worked for marketer Advo Inc. in Windsor, Conn., saw a 1984 television movie about the 1981 murder of 6-year-old Adam Walsh, who had been abducted from a Florida shopping mall.
Cherrie was chosen for the first flier, in May 1985, because there were enough details about her case that the center figured someone had to know something, Giuliano said.
The third-grader got off her school bus the afternoon of Feb. 22, 1985, in Winfield Township, a rural Butler Co. community 20 miles north of Pittsburgh.
A driver saw Cherrie get off and noticed a bluish-green van with a painting of a mountain and a skier on it was behind the bus. As the bus stopped to allow traffic to pass after driving down the road a bit farther, the van had disappeared
Cherrie's stepfather told police he had let her walk the short distance home because it was a nice day. When she didn't arrive, he went to the bus stop 10 minutes later and saw tire prints but no Cherrie.
Giuliano said it's "so bewildering" that someone who knows something about the case hasn't come forward.
Telephone calls to Cherrie's mother, Janice McKinney, were not returned.
While Cherrie's case serves as a sober reminder that not every missing child is found, the flier program has had success and gives hope.
More than half the 2,100 children featured on the fliers have been found through other means, such as police investigations or other groups posting pictures of them.
By 1990, the recovery rate for missing children was 62 percent. But now, partly because of the fliers and new technology such as Amber Alerts to spread information quickly, it's 97 percent, said Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
"But the ones you don't find, the ones that don't come home, are the ones that haunt you forever," he said. "Cherrie will always have a special place in our heart. And we don't close these files."