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Mother determined to find missing North Carolina woman Ebonee Spears, eight years after her mysterious disappearance

The 30-year-old was last seen on January 15, 2016, in Wilmington, North Carolina.

On January 15, 2016, Harriet Rivers got alarming news.

“We immediately started calling friends and wondering where she was,” Harriet told Dateline.

Harriet’s daughter, 30-year-old Ebonee Spears, was missing. However, all of Ebonee’s belongings were left behind in her Wilmington, North Carolina, home.

“Maybe one of her friends or somebody went to go pick her up,” Harriet said. “Where could she have been?”

Eight years later, Harriet is still trying to answer that question…

Ebonee Spears
Ebonee SpearsHarriet Rivers

Harriet told Dateline that their family is from Wilmington. “We’re sort of like a beach resort sort of town,” she said.

Ebonee is the youngest of four. “She played a little basketball when she was in high school,” Harriet said. “She loved being with her family. She loved hanging out with her friends.”

Harriet describes her daughter as outspoken. “Would talk to anybody -- and in a good way,” she said.

Harriet told Dateline that months before her disappearance, Ebonee had been diagnosed with Lupus. “That kind of took a toll on her mental health. [She] was very depressed and just was sick and down,” she said. “We got to the point where we just didn’t — she wouldn’t drive because we were just afraid at times. She couldn’t do anything for herself. She was worried about not being able to take care of herself and take care of Aniya.”

Aniya is Ebonee’s daughter. She was 13 years old at the time and the two lived in an apartment in Wilmington.

Harriet said she last spoke to Ebonee on the evening of January 15, 2016. Aniya was staying at Harriet’s house that night. “[Ebonee] was supposed to come over and eat with us,” she said. “She said she was at home. She’s already eaten. She’s fine.”

But Ebonee wasn’t fine.

Kyani Reid
Ebonee SpearsHarriet Rivers

Later that evening, Ebonee walked to the local Boys & Girls Club, not far from her apartment.

Dateline spoke with Detective Joshua Childress of the Wilmington Police Department. He said that Ebonee went to the center looking for a ride. “Someone at the community center told her that she should walk instead of waiting,” he said. “After that is when she arrived on foot at the police department,” a few minutes’ walk away from the club.

It’s unclear what Ebonee’s final destination was supposed to be.

Detective Childress told Dateline that Ebonee walked into their department looking to use their phone. “We have a landline telephone that we let citizens use,” he explained. “She appeared to be attempting to make a phone call on that phone.”

Childress said Ebonee never completed the call. 

“The phone was working. It looked like she was having some kind of difficulty,” he said. “She did seem very anxious -- believe they described her as being a little erratic [which] explained why she had so much difficulty attempting to use the phone.”

Detective Childress said officers offered Ebonee help. “The desk officer did offer to assist her, asked her if she needed anything, asked her if she needed to see EMS -- just because she appeared to be so anxious -- and she refused any assistance,” he said.

Harriet Rivers believes officers should have done more. “At that time of night, you don’t get a female that comes into the police department -- after [she] gets irate -- and do nothing,” she said. “If they’d have locked her up, my child might have — would have been here.”

Ebonee left the Wilmington Police Department and was caught on camera walking toward The Pointe at Taylor Estates, the apartment complex where she lived. “She was walking by herself away from the police department,” Detective Childress said.

Kyani Reid
Ebonee SpearsHarriet Rivers

Harriet Rivers said that around 10 p.m., one of Ebonee’s neighbors interacted with her. “Ebonee went outside and approached him and asked for a cigarette,” she told Dateline. “He declined because, he said, he didn’t have any. She told him, ‘I will just go to the store and just get me some.’”

That was the last reported sighting of Ebonee Spears.

Harriet told Dateline that Ebonee’s daughter got a concerning call early the next morning from one of her mother’s friends, who had gone to their apartment looking for Ebonee. “She wasn’t home, so I guess he hung around [until] about 1 a.m. and she hadn’t come home,” Harriett recalled. “He calls Aniya’s phone and asks Niya was her mom with us.”

She was not.

Later that morning, Ebonee’s father went to check her apartment. “[Her] pocketbook and everything was there,” Harriet said. “Her apartment was undisturbed. Everything was normal.”

Harriet said they also called Ebonee’s friends but no one had her from her. “We just got kind of suspicious and decided to call the police,” she said.

Detective Childress told Dateline that numerous searches have been conducted for Ebonee. “We looked inside of her apartment a couple of times, just trying to find clues of where she may have gone,” he said. “We did a very large search involving the Brunswick County Search and Rescue team. They had some canines out there.”

The detective told Dateline that helicopters were also used in the search, and authorities checked around the Boys & Girls Club, Taylor Home’s apartment complex, and local bodies of water. “They continued to search these areas on foot, as well,” he said. “In 2022, there was another large search involving the C-U-E Center.”

The C-U-E Center for Missing Persons is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping find missing people worldwide. They assisted police in the search for missing 17-year-old Brittanee Drexel, whose 2009 disappearance was featured on the Dateline episode ‘The Last Walk.’ C-U-E Center founder, Monica Caison, spoke with Dateline for that story and has been involved in the search for Ebonee since she disappeared.

“My daughter was actually getting married that day. I’ll never forget it. And I was getting text messages from people like, ‘Please help us. Ebonee’s missing,’” she recalled. “I was — between the wedding and the reception — getting her case registered and talking back and forth with a lot of her friends and just people in the community and her family.”

Monica said they immediately started getting the word out. “We just started getting dogs and ATVs and people on the ground and getting in and searching,” she said. “For probably the first 30 days, I was out there. If we weren’t on the ground searching, I was looking for new areas to search.”

Since Ebonee briefly lived in Georgia, Monica had volunteers search there, as well. “I had one of my volunteers down in Georgia that was a retired firefighter, and he went down on the streets,” she said.

But there was no sign of Ebonee.

Ebonee Spears
Ebonee SpearsHarriet White

Detective Joshua Childress told Dateline that there is no sign of foul play in Ebonee’s case at this time. “We just don’t have evidence of that,” he said. However, he added, his office has interviewed multiple people in the case. “Any person, basically, who claimed to have spoken to her in those preceding days, we were interviewing them,” he said.

“The most frustrating part is the lack of information,” Det. Childress noted. “She walked away alone. We just have no idea where she went. So, I just encourage anyone who has information, or they’ve heard something, or they’ve seen something, reach out and tell us, so we can investigate it.”

Harriet is determined to bring Ebonee home. “She could be out there,” she said. “I think the only way she’s not at home is she’s being held against her will.”

Dawn White is one of the members of the community helping Harriet in her search for her daughter. In turn, Harriet has helped Dawn with her own daughter. “We go to church together and my daughter was acting a little foolish,” Dawn told Dateline. “Harriet pulled her aside and she talked to her -- not at her.”

Dawn credits that conversation with Harriet for turning her daughter’s behavior around. It also led to a friendship between the two mothers. “I wanted to extend my services for her to help her,” Dawn said. “I cannot fathom what she’s going through, but I want to think that what she said to my daughter prevented me and my husband from going through this.”

According to Dawn, they have recently made huge steps in the search for Ebonee. “We’re moving along,” she said. “I was able to reach out to the National Guard and they are going to help pass out flyers in Ebonee’s neighborhood and surrounding areas.”

Harriet is hopeful that renewed attention will lead to finding her daughter and, she prays, bring Ebonee home safe to her own daughter, Aniya. “She’s tried to be tough, but I know she thinks about her mom all the time,” she said.

“We just want her to come home. No matter what, no matter how,” Harriet stressed. “We just want her to come home.”

Ebonee Spears
Ebonee SpearsHarriet Rivers

Ebonee is 5’7” and 150 lbs. She was last seen wearing a white shirt, blue jeans, brown leather Timberland boots, and a pink knit cap. “She was beautiful. Short hair, long hair, whatever she did, she was just pretty,” Harriet said.

The Wilmington Police Department has partnered with the C-U-E Center for Missing Persons and CrimeStoppers to offer a $5,000 reward to anyone who provides information leading to the discovery of Ebonee Spears.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Wilmington Police Department at 910-343-3600.