Nearly 20 years after 17-year-old Alissa Turney disappeared from her home in Phoenix, Arizona in 2001, her stepfather Michael Turney has been indicted by a grand jury in her murder.
Turney was arrested on Thursday in Mesa, Arizona, and charged with second-degree murder, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office announced at a press conference. Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel declined to say what led to the arrest, only that a grand jury issued the indictment.
Alissa was last seen on May 17, 2001, the last day of her junior year at Paradise Valley High School. Her sister, Sarah Turney, told Dateline in June that she remembers her sister being excited for summer and was planning to attend a graduation party later that evening.
Alissa never made it to that party.
According to the Phoenix Police Department, Michael Turney, previously told authorities that he picked Alissa up from her last day of school around 11 a.m. and took her out to lunch. He said they got into an argument over Alissa’s desire for more freedom. When they returned home, he said Alissa was still angry and went to her room. Turney said left around 1 p.m. to run errands and to pick up Sarah from her field trip.
When they returned home, Alissa was gone. A note had been left behind saying she was running away to California.
At the time, police determined there was no foul play involved and believed she was a runaway.
Several family members and friends disagreed, but the case went cold until 2006, when a Florida man’s confession to killing Alissa brought her case back into the spotlight. It was later determined that Thomas Hymer’s description of Alissa was not viable and his story was false. He later admitted that he might have been mistaken.
In 2008, investigators from the Phoenix Police Department Missing Persons Unit opened Alissa’s case and declared that foul play was indeed a factor in her disappearance, according to Sergeant Maggie Cox.
“At the time, there were no signs of foul play or exigency based on the fact Alissa was 17 years old and had no mental/physical health issues,” Sgt. Cox told Dateline. “Alissa was entered into NCIC as soon as the report was taken. In 2008, the Missing Persons Unit Detectives began to investigate further information obtained in the case.”
Sergeant Cox told Dateline that allegations of sexual abuse by Michael Turney prompted investigators to focus on him after speaking to several people in 2008.
“The totality of circumstances known to police prompted the focus on Michael Turney as the suspect,” Sgt. Cox said.
In December 2008, police executed search warrants at the house where Alissa had lived with her half-sister and stepfather, according to Sgt. Cox. They found multiple videotapes, dating back to the 1980s, including surveillance footage from around the house. They did not find any videos from the day she disappeared.
During the search, investigators also found 19 high-caliber assault rifles, two handmade silencers, a van filled with gasoline cans and 26 handmade explosive devices filled with gunpowder and roofing nails. It was the largest stockpile of explosives discovered in Phoenix Police Department history, according to The Arizona Republic.
Sergeant Cox told Dateline that during the search at Turney’s home authorities located a 98-page manifesto, titled "Diary of a Madman Martyr." According to the document, Turney, who worked as an electrician in the 1980s and complained about workplace conditions, accused the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers of being involved in the alleged kidnapping and murder of Alissa. The document goes on to state that Turney planned to blow up the union hall in revenge and kill himself in the process.
In March 2010, Michael Turney pleaded guilty to possessing 26 unregistered pipe bombs. He was sentenced to the maximum term of 10 years in federal prison, but was released in 2017.
Alissa’s little sister, Sarah, who is now in her 30s, has never given up her search for justice in her sister’s case.
In 2019, she started her own podcast, “Voices For Justice.” The podcast gives an intimate look at Sarah and Alissa’s family history, events leading up to Alissa’s disappearance and a timeline of what has happened in the years since.
In May of 2020, she began making videos on the popular video app “TikTok” that focused on the case.
“Believe it or not, it has become an important outlet for Alissa’s story. I’ve received more interest in this case from that app in the past month than the last 10 years,” Sarah told Dateline in June. “This is not going away and I’m going to make sure it never does. I still think of her as my tough older sister who taught me to be tough. Now, I need to continue to be tough and use that to fight for the justice she deserves. She deserves her day in court. And I’m determined to give her that.”
On August 20, 2020, following her father’s arrest, Sarah took to social media to announce the news to those who have been following her sister’s case.
“I’m shaking and I’m crying,” she posted to Twitter.
“We did it you guys. He’s been arrested. Omg, thank you. #justiceforalissa Never give up hope that you can get justice. It took almost 20 years but we did it.”
At the press conference on Thursday, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel gave credit to Sarah for helping to solve Alissa's case and for never giving up on it, calling Sarah's search for justice “a testament to love of a sister.”
“Because of that love, Alissa's light has never gone out,” she said.