Mercedes Toliver’s goal in life was to be in the Air Force. In 2016, the 18-year-old had just graduated from Prescott High School in her hometown of Arkansas, and spent her summer studying for the ASVAB test in Kansas where her cousin worked at McConnell Air Force Base.
“She was determined to do something great,” Mercedes’ cousin, Vontrice Flemons, told Dateline. “She wanted to prove that she could be somebody.”
But by the end of the year, Mercedes had disappeared.
“She was gone. Just like that,” Vontrice said. “It didn’t make any sense. She was always in contact with one of us. This wasn’t like her to just vanish.”
Mercedes was last seen just after midnight on December 17, 2016, at her home on Roston Road in Prescott, Arkansas.
“We just need her back,” Mercedes’s mother Felice Hopper told Dateline. “We miss her so much.”
Felice told Dateline that Mercedes is a typical teenager and could be stubborn at times. They had an argument just before Mercedes left the house.
“She only had the clothes on her back, her cell phone and $20 in her pocket,” Felice said. “I wasn’t worried at first because I knew she would not go far. But I should have made her stay. I regret that every day.”
Felice assumed Mercedes was walking to her sister’s house about a quarter mile away. But she later learned that wasn’t the case. Mercedes never made it to her aunt’s house.
Later in the day on Saturday, Felice went Christmas shopping. She was excited to surprise Mercedes with one of her Christmas gifts -- an art kit.
“She loved to draw,” Felice said. “And she was good at it. I wanted her to have a real art kit. I couldn’t wait for her to see it.”
Felice also picked up some clothing items for her daughter, but needed to call Mercedes to double-check her size. Her calls went straight to voicemail.
“I figured she was out of minutes, so when I had a chance later that day, I loaded more minutes on her phone,” Felice said. “But when I tried to call again that weekend, there was nothing. Straight to voicemail again.”
Felice said it was not like her daughter to not have her cell phone on.
“She had that cell phone in her hands 24/7,” Felice said. “She was always on social media. Or listening to music. She loved music. So when I couldn’t get through to her, I knew something was wrong.”
By Monday, Felice discovered Mercedes never made it to the home of her sister, Doris Flemons. After multiple efforts to find Mercedes, the family called the police.
Doris told Dateline she had no idea her niece was coming over that night and didn’t find out Mercedes was missing until she talked to Felice on Monday.
“She was always over here… since she was a baby,” Doris said. “But not that weekend. I saw her, and her mother, on Friday. And that was the last time I saw Mercedes.”
Mercedes and Doris were extremely close, family members told Dateline. They went to church together and enjoyed watching old movies, especially westerns.
“She’s my heartbeat. She everything,” Doris said. “It doesn’t seem real that she’s gone.”
Doris told Dateline that it was not Mercedes’ character to just run away.
“No, not Mercedes,” Doris said. “She always called and told me where she was going. I always knew where she was. This was the first time I didn’t know where she was.”
The community conducted searches and went door-to-door, but Mercedes was nowhere to be found.
Nearly four years have passed and the family tells Dateline they are frustrated with the lack of answers in Mercedes’ disappearance.
Prescott Police Chief Joseph Beavers told Dateline the case is still open and they are looking into all tips they receive, but said they haven’t had any leads in some time.
"We had some leads early on -- within the first month -- and past that everything dropped off,” Chief Beavers said. “We haven't received leads at the police department in quite some time.”
Chief Beavers said they worked with the Arkansas State Police to track Mercedes’ cell phone, but were not able to locate it. He said they were concerned because Mercedes had not used her cell phone or been on social media.
“She was a social media junkie,” Mercedes’ mom Felice said. “Always on Instagram and SnapChat. For all of that to just stop… that’s odd.”
Felice said Mercedes was not interested in going out with friends and preferred to be at home.
“She did go to a few parties and get-togethers with a friend,” Felice said. “But one day, she came home and told me that she would rather stay home and read her books.”
Mercedes’ family described her as being a kind, funny person who loved to make people laugh and who never met a stranger.
“She has a big heart,” Doris said. “Always thinking about someone else.”
Doris told Dateline that she remembers a time when one of Mercedes’s friends received some bad news. So, Mercedes went to the store and put together a basket of treats for her.
“That’s just the kind of person she is,” Doris said.
Mercedes’s family told Dateline they are afraid something terrible happened to her and they are desperate for any kind of information that will bring them closure.
“I feel like I’m living each day pretending,” Felice said. Felice, who works 12 hours a day in a factory and cares for her children, along with nieces and nephews, said the chaos helps to keep her mind busy. “It helps. To keep busy. But I miss her every day. I just want her back.”
Mercedes, who would be 21 today, was last seen wearing a red hoodie with a yellow shirt underneath and grey sweatpants. She is described as 5'3" tall and weighs 120 pounds. She has black hair and brown eyes.
Anyone with information on Mercedes Toliver’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Prescott Police Department at 870-887-6779.