GREENVILLE — Anger is growing in this East Texas town over a seemingly slow police response to a teenage girl's disappearance and eventual murder.
"If somebody is missing that should have been at home, the police need to step up and reach out," said the girl's aunt Jessica Byrd. "I feel like I've been the investigator trying to get the word out."
Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil Wednesday night at the spot where Alicia Moore, 16, stepped off a Greenville school bus Friday and disappeared.
In their grief, many also expressed frustration toward the police for waiting three days to issue any public alert about the missing teen.
"I'm angry," said Alicia's cousin, Kendra Johnson, at the vigil as she clutched a candle and a teddy bear. "I just don't see how people can let stuff like this happen."
Alicia disappeared around 3:30 p.m. Friday after she stepped off a school bus steps from her home. Yet it took days for police to issue any kind of alert, despite public pressure from residents.
Greenville police didn't notify the school district until the next morning. School district officials then confirmed Alicia had indeed exited a school bus at the corner of Walnut and Bourland streets.
Administrators then tried tracking Alicia's school-issued iPad, but by that time the tracking system had been disabled, according to Superintendent Don Jefferies.
Not until 8 p.m. Monday did officers eventually issue Moore's photo and a description of the small girl, who stood only 5'-1" tall and weighted no more than 100 pounds. The release came after pleas for help spread on social media and repeated inquiries from News 8.
"Early on, we had a very limited amount of information that we had to deal with," Greenville police Chief Dan Busken explained at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. He said Alicia's disappearance didn't meet the criteria for an Amber Alert, and that there had been indications she had run away before.
"Even up until now we cannot say for certain Alicia was abducted," Busken said.
Construction workers found the high school student's body Tuesday morning stuffed into a storage box along a rural road 40 miles away near Wills Point in neighboring Van Zandt County.
The crime has stoked fears and ignited tempers in this city of 25,000 people 50 miles east of Dallas. It's also raised questions of whether the suspect may have struck before.
Khania Bailey-Hatley, 14, said she was nearly kidnapped months ago after she, too, stepped off a Greenville school bus.
"I think he was hiding in the bushes or in a car," Khania told News 8. She said the man followed her from the bus stop in the 4200 block of Stuart Street on January 17. He yelled at her to come to him, and then tried grabbing her, steps away from her front yard.
"He was like, 'come here,'" Khania recalled. "He was behind me and I kept walking and he grabbed my shirt... he had the back of my shirt."
She managed to fight off the assailant and ran to a friend's house to call police. Khania told officers she had seen the man before, watching her and other kids getting off the bus.
"He was obviously prowling on her, waiting on her," her mother, Pametria Bailey said. "He knew what time she got off that bus every day. He was waiting."
Bailey said officers took a report and never made an arrest.
Greenville police didn't respond to inquiries Wednesday evening about whether they suspect the two crimes are connected.
Bailey added that in January, the school district sent out a warning, and a story on the attempted kidnapping was reported in the local newspaper.
Khania teen described the suspect as a white male who was tall, skinny, in his 30s, with facial hair and wearing a blue jacket, hat, glasses and jeans.
Since then, Bailey has not let Khania ride the bus. She can't help but worry that the man who tried to snatch her daughter may be behind Alicia's murder.
"There's no difference in the two situations," Bailey said. "The only difference is my daughter got away, and she didn't."