Weekday mornings mean busy households across America. Parents are waking their kids up and getting ready for work, often exchanging quick goodbyes on the way out the door.
Mornings began this way at the Tuders family home in Nashville, Tennessee, and April 29, 2003 was no different. Bo Tuders made the usual morning rounds, which included waking up his 13-year-old daughter, Tabitha.
“At about 7 o’clock, I woke up and told her, “You have got to get up and get ready for school, because I have got to go to work,’” Bo told Dateline. He left for work minutes later, he said, knowing Tabitha wouldn’t be far behind him on her walk to the school bus stop.
Neighbors would later tell police they saw Tabitha heading to the bus stop that morning. The walk always took less than ten minutes, and Tabitha always took the same route.
Meanwhile, Tabitha’s father and her mother, Debra, went on with their days at work. When Bo arrived home that evening, though, he learned Tabitha hadn’t come home.
“When I got off from work, I came home. My wife said Tabitha hadn’t gotten here yet,” Bo told Dateline. “I said, ‘What do you mean Tabitha isn’t home yet?’ It was about 5:00 p.m.”
Bo says he and his wife then went to Tabitha’s school, Bailey Middle School, to see if she was still there.
“We asked if any students were still there, and they said there were some students there,” Bo said. “We asked them to take us to where the students were. But when we got there, Tabitha wasn’t in the group.”
Tabitha’s parents then learned their young daughter hadn’t been at school at all that day. They immediately went home to call police and report their daughter missing.
“We were heartbroken,” Bo said. “We were just out of our heads.”
Law enforcement soon determined Tabitha had not gotten on the bus that morning. Somewhere along the short walk between her family’s suburban home and her school bus stop, Tabitha had vanished.
Jamie and Kevin Tuders, Tabitha’s older siblings, who no longer lived at home, came back as soon as they heard their sister was missing.
“We put fliers up and searched abandoned buildings,” Bo said. He noted that while Tabitha wasn’t carrying a backpack that morning, she was carrying something else. “She loved school,” he said. “When she was going back to school that morning, she was carrying her report card with straight As on it. Still, to this day, nothing of hers has been found.”
In the years following Tabitha’s disappearance, local and state investigators have continued to search for the young girl. The FBI is also involved, offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the recovery of Tabitha Tuders and the prosecution of the person(s) responsible for her disappearance. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department was unable to speak to Dateline by publication, but Detective Steve Jolley told the National Center for Missing Children that Tabitha is not considered a runaway.
“I don’t think that this is a runaway case for a couple of reasons,” Det. Jolley said. “There were things left in her bedroom that I don’t think most 13-year-old girls would leave and she went in a direction that she would have normally gone in if she were going to school. I think if she were wanting to run away she would have stayed clear of any place where someone would potentially see her.”
Detective Jolley told local media in February that “there were multiple offenders on the sexual offender list within just the one mile radius of her home” and he continues to get tips that lead detectives back to Nashville.
Tabitha’s father Bo said he is still “just as heartbroken as the day she went missing.”
“When me and my wife are out, people come up to us and say they know we are Tabitha’s parents and that they’re praying for us,” he told Dateline. “We still do a candlelight vigil at her middle school every year. She was just a sweet, young, innocent girl.”
Bo says his older children, Jamie and Kevin, have also been affected by Tabitha’s disappearance.
“My son and other daughter are real strict with their children now,” he said. “They don’t let them out of their sight. It has woken up a whole lot of people here in Nashville.”
Tabitha Tuders would be 29 years old today. At the time of her disappearance, she was described as being 5’1” tall and weighing 100 lbs. She has sandy blonde hair and was last seen wearing a pair of Mudd jeans, white Reebok shoes, a light blue shirt and a blue jacket. If you have information of the circumstances surrounding Tabitha’s case, please call the Nashville Metropolitan Police at (615) 862-8600 or Crime Stoppers staff at 615-742-7463.