Shelly Nagle, whose younger sister Sherry Leighty disappeared in October 1999, never gave up looking for her sister, a young woman she described as "a beautiful person, inside and out.
"First and foremost, she was an amazing mom," said Nagle at her Altoona home Monday. "Her children meant everything to her. She loved those babies with all her heart."
When Sherry Leighty disappeared, she was 23 with three young children, ages 7, 3 and 1 1/2. Nagle said that was what made the explanation of her sister's disappearance - that she had run off to Maine with a boyfriend - impossible for her to believe.
"Even at the beginning, I couldn't see her leaving her kids. She always had her kids with her," said Nagle, who spent years looking for her sister, mostly alone.
Nagle said she searched the Internet, but found nothing. What was particularly frustrating, she said, was the feeling she was alone in her search.
"You always hold out hope that maybe, maybe, maybe she's still out there," Nagle said. "That's why I never stopped looking."
Nagle started a Facebook page for her sister several years ago. Through it, she learned information her family was able to take to Altoona police, who up until last August had considered Leighty missing but not endangered.
Nagle declined to reveal what she learned, but she said it was enough to prompt police to look at the case.
The information was, she said, something that investigators would have learned themselves, had police probed Sherry Leighty's disappearance from the onset.
Still, Nagle praised the work of the Altoona police and state police in Huntingdon and said she was thankful for what they are doing now.
Sheldon Dumm, Nagle and Sherry Leighty's father, first contacted Altoona police about Sherry's disappearance and he spent his remaining years asking about the case. He died in 2005, and the mystery of what happened to his daughter haunted him, Nagle said.
"The day before my dad passed away, he was still asking had we heard anything," Nagle said. "Little did we know she would be waiting for him."
Police continue searching a 150-acre Warriors Mark property belonging to Sherry Leighty's former father-in-law, Kenneth W. Leighty, 65, now in jail on assault charges stemming from his alleged tussle with Altoona and state police April 19 at his Altoona home.
According to court records, police caught Kenneth Leighty in a lie - that he went to work after dropping Sherry Leighty off near her workplace Oct. 1, 1999 - and had intercepted two phone conversations where he allegedly told his son that he killed Sherry Leighty and had buried her on his family's hunting property.
When police informed Kenneth Leighty they were taking him for further questioning, he allegedly rushed the officers and struggled with police, who then charged him with aggravated assault and other charges.
Kenneth Leighty remains in Blair County Prison on a $250,000 bond and has not been charged in connection to Sherry Leighty's disappearance.
The last 10 days have been tough, Nagle said, since the case broke open and police began searching for her sister's remains.
"I've been calling [investigators] on a daily basis," Nagle said. "I'm a pretty impatient person."
Her eyes filling with tears, Nagle said it is her hope that Kenneth Leighty would "do the right thing" and help police find her body.
"She was a wonderful daughter, sister and friend," Nagle said. "She'd do anything to help you. She had such a kind heart. I just don't understand."