It was a hot Fourth of July weekend in Louisiana and a time for families and friends to gather together to celebrate with cookouts and picnics.
Erica Nicole Hunt, 20, and her 2-year-old daughter, Breionna, attended a family get-together at her uncle’s home in Opelousas.
“It was just a good day for our family,” Erica’s sister, Shantashia Isaac, told Dateline. “Everyone was just hanging out and having a good time.”
Shantashia said Erica seemed to be enjoying herself as she gushed about plans for her upcoming 21st birthday and working toward moving into a new house.
Erica’s mother, Shannon Isaac, told Dateline she remembers her daughter talking about her plans to go to Lake Charles the next day with a friend who also had a child. But those plans were never realized.
“It was like night and day that weekend,” Shantashia said. “One day she was there and everything was good and the next, she was gone. It was just unbelievable. It still is.”
The evening of July 3 was the last time Shantashia and their mother, Shannon, saw Erica.
Shantashia told Dateline that Erica left Breionna with their mother to spend the night, and was planning to return the next day to pick her up for their trip to the lake.
Erica was also supposed to braid her friend’s daughter’s hair the next day, and when she didn’t show up, her friend grew concerned. Shantashia said Erica’s roommate hadn’t seen her either, so they all started calling her phone.
“But it just rang and rang and rang,” Shantashia said. “Then it would just go straight to voicemail. Something wasn’t right.”
Shantashia told Dateline that in the past, even if Erica ran out of minutes on her phone or if the battery died, she always found a way to call her family, especially to check on her daughter.
On July 6, Erica’s family reported her missing to the Opelousas Police.
There have been stories about sightings of Erica at Ray's Boudin on Hirsch Alley and on Madison Street, but Opelousas Police Chief Martin McClelland told Dateline these reports were not confirmed.
Searches were organized and fliers were plastered all over the community, but there was no trace of Erica. Shantashia said Erica’s wallet with ID was left behind, but her cell phone has never been found.
“It was just all so hard to process,” Shantashia said. “Breionna asked for her, but we didn’t know what to say. She was so young. And it was all so overwhelming.”
Shantashia added that her sister would never leave the family, especially her daughter. She describes Erica as lively, energetic and the “firecracker of the family.”
“She was always smiling and she just loved being around family and friends,” Shantashia said. “And we were as close as sisters could be. I mean, of course we fought like crazy. But we could be arguing and then if something happened and I needed her, it didn’t matter, she would be right by my side to help me. That’s who she was.”
Chief McClelland told Dateline that in 2018, they received a tip that Erica’s remains were possibly in a house on Hirsch Alley in Opelousa. Shantashia told Dateline her sister had previously lived in that house, but was not living there in 2016.
Cadaver dogs were brought in, but found no trace of human remains. The family was called to the area, but when nothing was found, they were devastated once again by the lack of answers.
Shantashia told Dateline the case was passed along through the police department over the years and has since hit a dead end.
“We have little information and haven’t heard anything in awhile,” Shantashia said. “And by little, I mean nothing at all. Just any bit of information would help.”
Chief McClelland said they have followed every tip and lead that has come in over the past four years, but nothing has led to Erica.
“This is still considered an outstanding missing persons case and we invite anyone with information to contact us,” Chief McClelland said. “This young lady deserves to be returned to her family.”
Chief McClelland confirmed that while there are no suspects in Erica’s disappearance, authorities are concerned for her safety.
Erica’s mother and sister both expressed that they would just like closure, but know that closure might mean Erica is no longer alive.
“It’s heartbreaking, but we haven’t given up,” Shantashia said.
The family advocates for Erica’s safe return with the Facebook page “Bring Erica Hunt Home” and the hashtags #BringEricaHome, #JusticeForErica and #WhatHappenedToEricaHunt. Signs with Erica’s photo and information decorate hundreds of yards in Opelousas, as the community strives to keep hope alive.
Erica’s daughter Breionna, who is now six years old, is being cared for by Erica's mother, Shannon, who said Breionna still asks for her mother from time to time.
“We’ve been living a nightmare these past few years,” sisterShantashia said. “But we’re trying to stay strong. We’re not giving up until we bring Erica home.”
Erica would be 24 years old today. At the time of her disappearance, she was described as being 5’4” tall, weighing 160 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.
She has a tattoo of the name "Nicole" on her lower back, a tattoo of the name "Breionna" on the outside of her right wrist, and a tattoo of a Care Bear with a star on the back of her shoulder.
Anyone with information about Erica’s whereabouts is asked to contact the Opelousas Police Department at 337-945-8577.