ORLANDO – Lauren Erickson stood in front of the Graffiti Junktion restaurant in Thornton Park, before a table lined with t-shirts, coffee mug holders, and other items for sale.
“Technically speaking, we’re selling them,” she said. “But they’re really for $10 donations.”
And as people began to show up at the restaurant – which was hosting a special hair competition on Friday night – Erickson promised to remain at the table throughout the evening.
“I’ll be here all night,” she said.
Those t-shirts, though, were not ones that Erickson was promoting because she’s a clothing designer. On each of those plain white t-shirts was the word “Missing,” and it also had a photo on it of Erickson’s sister, Michelle Parker.
That’s why Erickson organized a fund-raiser and benefit at Graffiti Junktion on Friday night, to help raise awareness of the fact that her sister vanished last month, leaving behind two children.
“It’s a benefit in support of the Michelle Loree Parker Trust Fund,” Erickson said. “That trust fund was set up in support of her children, and for the search.”
The Orlando Police Department is still actively investigating the case of Parker, 33. Her mysterious disappearance has caught the attention of the national media, in part because Parker had appeared on an episode of the television show “The People’s Court,” along with her ex-boyfriend, Dale Smith II. The couple went on the show to argue about a lost $5,000 engagement ring, and the judge ordered Parker to pay Smith for half the cost of the ring.
After dropping off her twins with Smith, their father, at his home on S. Semoran Boulevard, she vanished. Parker’s family reported her missing after she didn’t show up for work at The Barn nightclub in Sanford that same night.
Earlier this month, Orlando police announced they had found Parker’s missing iPhone near the Nela Bridge in Belle Isle.
Since then, a lot of the focus of the investigation has been on Smith, 40, who is believed to have been the last person to see Parker alive before she disappeared on Nov. 17. He has not been arrested and charged with a crime, though.
Parker’s disappearance did prompt her family and friends to open a command center in south Orlando to assist police in the search for the missing mother. Earlier this month, the command center was shut down as the search efforts expanded to Seminole County, while the Orange County Sheriff’s Office dive team searched a retention pond near the home of Smith’s parents.
Parker’s family has put up posters all around the city, asking for the public’s help in finding her sister. Those posters can be found all through Thornton Park, including at Graffiti Junktion, which agreed to host a special benefit on Friday for the trust fund.
“We’re calling it Hair Wars,” Erickson said. “It’s a battle between two hair stylists. And we had all these t-shirts made for tonight during the benefit.”
As agonizing as Parker’s disappearance has been for the family, Erickson said they’ve taken some consolation from the fact that the community has rallied around them as the search continues.
“I love it,” Erickson said. “It’s been very strong, and it’s everywhere. My Facebook page alone has over 17,500 fans.”
The Michelle Parker Missing Person page on Facebook is where Erickson posts updates on what’s happening in the search, and what the family is experiencing. On Wednesday, she wrote “I did read all the thoughts and prayers, so thank you! I know we are all very anxious for any kind of news but not to be discouraged. The news changes constantly. From day one, police have been working on all kinds of leads, tips and information. The news slows, but they haven’t.”
Erickson said she’s so grateful for the strong support the ongoing search effort has received, bringing the entire community together to help.
“People around the world have been so supportive of this search,” she said. “It hits close to home for a lot of people.”
Anyone who wants to make a donation to the trust fund can log on to www.forthepeople.com, the site that Erickson set up for that purpose.
”It’s where people can go to, to make a donation through a PayPal account,” she said.
Anyone with ifnromation on Parker’s disappearance can also call 1-800-423-TIPS.
Contact us at FreelineOrlando@Gmail.com.