PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Alisa Hunt and Amber Brown think about their childhood friend Kacey Perry every day. More than 3 decades ago they were among a group of neighborhood friends from Hoover Elementary in Salem.
“A lot of us kids would meet up in front of each other’s houses and as you got closer to school, the group got bigger,” Brown told KOIN 6 News.
“We’d go around the church and see what mischief we could get into,” Hunt said. “I mean, we were only 10 and 11.”
“My fondest memory of Kacey is probably she was hanging upside-down on the bars that all the kids want to play on,” Brown said. “She would hang upside-down, stick her tongue out at you, chuckle, and do a little cherry bomb off of it, land on her feet, laugh, and then go on about her business.”
But their memories of Kacey Perry don’t go beyond September 1990. She vanished on a Friday night from her dad’s house in Southeast Portland.
At that time, Kacey’s dad, Mike Ferdina, told KOIN 6 News about the night she vanished.
“We got into a discussion, argument actually, and she wanted to go home that evening. And I told her I’d take her home the next morning” Ferdina said then. “She basically gave up then and went to bed and I came out here and sat out here for an hour-and-a-half or so and went back in to check in on her and she was gone.”
Investigators think she may have tried to find a way back to her mom’s house in the Keizer area. Tami Perry said it was strange for her daughter to up and leave.
“She’s never gone. She spends all her time with me,” Perry said in 1990. “So this is real unusual for her.”
Witnesses spotted Kacey at Kienow’s Food Store, about 10 blocks away from her dad’s house. Today, a Rite Aid is at this location. Detectives said Kacey took a purse with her that had clothes in it and those items were found abandoned.
Kacey Perry was never seen again.
Search dogs picked up her scent at Laurelhurst Park. Flyers went out. There were sightings of someone hitchhiking near the interstate in Albany and Wilsonville, but no confirmation it was Kacey.
A confession, ‘but it all crumbled’
At the time, PPB homicide detective CW Jensen was on the case.
“It’s 30 years later and it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart and I don’t think people understand how tightly we get wound up in these cases,” Jensen said recently. “Some of them change our lives.”
Jensen still recalls details in this investigation. At one point, a man the family knew led them to a site for possible clues about Kacey.
“He confessed. I bet we gave him a polygraph, I can’t recall,” Jensen said. “We drove him out to the Kelso area, up in the woods. Took him out there but it all crumbled. And I think he told us at the end, I believe he said, ‘I just kind of thought I could get some attention on this. Which he did. It was just a canard.”
The PPB Cold Case Unit told KOIN 6 News Kacey’s case has been revisited several times since 1990, even re-examining evidence, contacting witnesses and persons of interest.
“What do I think?” Jensen said. “I don’t think she ran away. I don’t think a stranger snatched her off the street. That kind of narrows it down.”
In 2014, a relative’s DNA profile was uploaded into a couple of national databases for missing people to create a possible match in case her remains are found one day.
Perhaps all the time that passed could benefit Kacey’s case.
“There could be someone out there who has carried the secret all these years, but either for fear or for some other reason just didn’t want to say anything,” Jensen said.
‘That is my ultimate goal’
So Alisa Hunt and Amber Brown began again trying to solve this case.
“We figured it’s kind of a now-or-never to renew these efforts,” Brown said. “It’s something that’s kind of haunted both of us our whole lives.”
They’ve procured donated flyers and billboards in the Salem and Portland areas. They’re working to get their communities involved in Kacey’s case, too.
“Maybe it’ll spark a conversation with them to say, ‘Hey, do you remember this story?'” Hunt said. “Maybe somebody knows something and they just didn’t realize they know it. Maybe they saw something and didn’t realize what they saw.”
Mike Ferdina recently spoke with KOIN 6 News about the difficult times over the decades without closure about his daughter. He said he strongly appreciates what Kacey’s childhood friends are doing.
For Hunt and Brown, it’s about more than helping to solve a mystery.
“The hope is that we get justice,” Brown said.
Justice for a girl, a friend, who always stands out in their childhood memories.
“I still, to this day, can see her poking her tongue at me, hanging upside-down on the bar, you know? She was fun, she was a good kid for the most part,” Brown said.
“Knowing that she’s not sitting out there by herself anymore, that is my ultimate goal,” Hunt said. “To give her a final resting place.”