KNIGHT
Jim Cole  /  AP
Terri Knight of Concord, N.H., looks at photos of her children, Sarah, 14, left, taken on the last day she was seen alive, and Philip, 11.
updated 6/17/2005 3:07:48 PM ET 2005-06-17T19:07:48

Terri Knight has never actually been to the Midwest, but she has spent hours crisscrossing hundreds of miles of Interstate 80 on the Internet, guided by satellite images, strangers’ vacation accounts and a nightmarish description of where her ex-husband said he buried their murdered children two years ago.

Now she is steeling herself to drive the route herself, hoping to rekindle interest in her search and, ultimately, find her children and bring them home from their hastily dug roadside graves.

“The kids deserve better,” Knight said.

On July 4, 2003, Knight’s ex-husband, Manuel Gehring, and their children, Sarah, 14, and Philip, 11, watched the fireworks in Concord. Bystanders said they argued and left in a huff, the youngsters in tears. Six days later, Gehring was arrested in California without them.

Previous searches come up empty
Within hours, he told authorities he shot them in his minivan soon after leaving Concord and buried them off I-80 in the Midwest, somewhere in a nearly 14,000-square-mile area of often interchangeable landscape.

Police drove Gehring along the route, but he could not find the spot. Publicity brought tips from around the country, but further searches came up empty, and Gehring strangled himself in jail in February 2004 while awaiting trial.

Now Knight wants to see the area for herself and bring the case back into the spotlight, hoping someone can lead searchers to the spot. She plans to set out on July 6 with her husband, and plans to give news interviews along the way.

“I’ve got my hopes pretty high,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press in which she drifted between laughter and the verge of tears.

At the time he killed the children, Gehring resented the custody arrangements he had with Knight, who had remarried and was pregnant. He told police he dug a grave, said a prayer, made duct tape crosses on the children’s chests and buried them.

He said the graves were in tall grass near an old-fashioned water pump and wire fence, within sight of a tan or yellow building. Weathered firewood, concrete pipes standing on end and a concrete slab were nearby, he told authorities.

The search zone is 10 miles both north and south of the nearly 700 miles of I-80 between Grove City, Pa., where Gehring bought a shovel, and Iowa City, Iowa. By that point in his journey, he said, the children already had been buried.

“There are theories behind every exit,” his ex-wife said. “That’s why I am taking the whole trip. If there was one place that was definitely it, I’d just go to that one place.”

The Midwest looms large in Knight’s daily life. The mother of 19-month-old twins reads headlines from the Midwest on her computer and frequently Googles “bodies found.” From families’ online vacation journals, she studies photographs of the exits across her ex-husband’s route.

Staying busy helps her emotionally.

“If you give me a project of coming up with all of the exits across the Midwest and what routes they connect with,” she said, “I feel like I am doing something.”

The FBI expects more tips from its release soon of an audiotape and transcript of Gehring describing the burial spot. Rachelfind.com, a missing-persons Web site in Illinois, has a map of Gehring’s route and public service announcements available for broadcast.

Knight has listened to hours of the FBI interviews but is not convinced Gehring was telling the truth.

“There were pieces of it where he kept sounding like he was trying to get specific about things. But I don’t think he really knew,” she said. “I think he was making it up, trying to make them happy, make them like him.”

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