A blonde Whitton wriggled out of her purse and bolted from a pair of sliding glass doors, running out of her flip flops and leaving her phone behind. Once outside, she darted underneath a sign that warned: cameras installed. And they were—catching her every footstep.
Whitton, a young mother to a then-6-year-old, seemingly vanished from the Walmart Supercenter on Cobb Parkway in Marietta, Ga., on Sept. 13, 2013 around 2 a.m. She had been detained for shoplifting with her then-boyfriend, Ashley Caudle.
She was on parole for another crime.
“On the night that she disappeared, she was up to no good that night as well. She was high. She was in Walmart. She bought some things and she also lifted some things. She was with her boyfriend at the time and was caught, initially, by their security at Walmart, and got away,” Daniels said of her daughter who has struggled with addiction.
Daniels attempted to retrace her daughter's last-known footsteps.
“I actually went to that Walmart and stood there in front and could picture her running out those doors. So, that was hard,” Daniels said, tearing up and fighting back the tears that raced down her cheek. “I couldn't walk back in there again—but I did that one time.”
PHOTOS | Tiffany Whitton was last seen in 2013
Following her illegal and abrupt disappearance, no one reported her missing.
It wasn’t necessarily alarming or unlike her to ignore her family or stop calling her friends, Daniels admitted. But after the lack of phone call on her birthday and her absence during the holidays, a few months after that footage was captured inside Walmart, her mom knew something wasn’t right.
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“We did not realize that anything was wrong until a couple of months later—because she was participating in a lifestyle that she would be off the grid for weeks at a time, because when she was using and things were really bad, the last thing she wanted was for us to know that she was using.”
But, usually, Daniels said, Whitton would contact someone in the family—cousins, her grandmother, friends or co-workers at IHOP... someone.
(Jessica Noll / WXIA)
It wasn’t until Daniels mother, who Whitton had listed as her residence, received a letter from Walmart about the shoplifting incident. It was the first that they knew about it.
“So, then we're thinking, 'OK, she's on the run. She's high.' She was already on probation, so we just figured she's high now,” Daniels said of her drug-addicted daughter.
“I said, 'She's laying low; she doesn't want to get caught; she knows she's going to be in trouble.’”
But when the family started to call and inquire with Caudle what happened to Whitton, he claimed that the night at Walmart caught on surveillance video was the last time he laid eyes on her as well.
Daniels took to Facebook, surfing, searching, wading through messages, alerts and friend requests on her daughter’s page. And what she found took her aback.
Friends reached out:
"Hey, where are you?"
"I haven't heard from you, call me."
"I'm worried about you."
“That was when I truly knew something was extremely wrong, because she had hundreds of notifications, unread messages, friend requests... hundreds. She was an avid Facebook user. She was on it a lot. All her activity of Facebook ceased that day. I knew then that she was in real trouble—and not just legal trouble.”
“I waited until after the holidays because she's not a child, she's an adult. She has a right to hide out, a right to be missing if that's what she wants. I really didn't know how to handle it.”
But the anxious mother eventually filed a missing persons report with the Marietta Police Department in January 2014.
INSIDE | Police search missing woman's boyfriend's home
The following summer, police searched Whitton's boyfriend’s house, but could not find any evidence pointing to her whereabouts.
Caudle’s mother, Peggy Bailey, told 11Alive three years ago, that she did not believe her son had anything to do with Whitton’s disappearance. But she did say he had a drug problem.
“My son's a good guy if he's not using drugs. You couldn't ask for a better young man,” Bailey said about her son who is currently behind bars for separate charges in Cherokee County. "If he's using drugs he wasn't allowed in my home, around my grandchildren or around me.”