By Robert Tomlinson
CENTREVILLE — A high-profile missing person case in St. Joseph County from 2018 was the subject of a community rally in Centreville Saturday morning.
Dozens of people gathered at the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department to bring awareness to the case of Brittany Nichole Wallace (Shank), who was last seen in the 33000 block of Fawn River Road in Sturgis around 9 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2018.
Saturday’s rally was organized by Jackie Milliman, who had not known Wallace or her family prior to organizing the rally. She said the main goals were to encourage Wallace’s family to know they still have support, as well as encouraging law enforcement to keep moving forward with the case.
Milliman was one of several speakers during the hour-long rally, saying that it’s important to keep a focus on the case and give support to the family and law enforcement.
“As a community, we need to be locked arm in arm, speak up and make our voices heard,” Milliman said. “It has been over four years since this tragedy. Four years of agony and heartbreak for Brittany’s loved ones, four years with those responsible walking around freely while Brittany’s loved ones suffer daily. It’s time for the public to speak up. We want justice for Brittany Wallace, we want justice for her family. It’s time for law enforcement to act. It’s time to bring Brittany home, and it’s time for justice for Brittany.”
After Milliman’s speech, the final one of the rally set at a makeshift stage in the corner of the Sheriff’s Department parking lot, the crowd chanted “Justice for Brittany” multiple times, while many were locked arm in arm, and some were holding signs. The rally got numerous car honks and encouragement throughout the day from passersby along M-86.
Many of the speakers during the rally, mostly family and friends of Wallace’s, said that while she had some personal issues she was working to fix, she was still a mother, a daughter, and a friend to a lot of people, and that her family deserves closure in the years-long case.
Wallace’s mother, Jessica Rolfe, thanked the crowd for their support, and later urged her daughter’s case to be reclassified by law enforcement as something called a “no-body homicide.”
“That way, it will allow law enforcement to have access to more resources, like the FBI,” Rolfe said. “If the shoe was on the other foot, and your child was missing, I promise you my daughter would be out there looking just as diligently as we have been. She would do the same thing.”
The case gained more national attention in the past year when the story was picked up by the podcast “Hide and Seek,” hosted by Washington-based James Baysinger. The third season of the podcast focused on Wallace’s story, which many people who attended the rally said has been instrumental in bringing the case to light and exploring possible new leads in the case.
While he was not in attendance himself, Baysinger issued a statement for the rally, read out by Rolfe. In the statement, Baysinger thanked the community in St. Joseph County for their support of the podcast, law enforcement, and the family during the last few years.
“As you stand locked in arms with Brittany’s family and friends, both old and new, we want to acknowledge the sincere concerns for the community. It’s because of this that we’re making a commitment to continue our investigation in pursuit of answers and justice for Brittany Wallace,” Baysinger’s statement read.
Wallace went missing on the night of Nov. 30, 2018 when she left her grandmother’s house accompanied by an unknown male. Her car was found in a ditch a few miles away, and Shank showed up at a nearby house to call for help. Witnesses said she was not wearing a coat or shoes at the time, and her feet and arms were scratched and bleeding.
A resident helped Wallace call 911, but before the call ended, she had left that residence and went to another home. The identity of the man she was with is still unknown to this day.
One of the speakers said the St. Joseph County Sheriff’s Department was cooperative in regards to the rally. While those at the department involved with the case had prior commitments and could not attend Saturday, the speaker said Captain TJ Baker provided statistics about the case so far.
As of this month, according to the statistics shared at the rally, law enforcement have investigated 204 tips related to the case, interviewed 145 individuals with some interviewed multiple times, two investigations that “don’t fall into any particular category,” have acted on 20 separate search warrants and 31 searches at various locations, including several miles around the site where her car left the road as well as other sites. Many of the searches have involved foot searches, aerial searches, dive team searches, and searches of homes. The case is still considered an open and active case, and have continued to pursue tips as they come in.
Milliman said she hopes the rally can help stir up the information needed to help solve the case.
“We believe this case can be solved,” Milliman said in an interview prior to the rally. “We believe there is some information that’s come to light that can lead to that. We know that somebody knows. Someone out there has information; we’re asking them to speak up.”
Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 or firstname.lastname@example.org.