February 22, 1985 began like any other Friday for Cherrie Mahan's family in Butler County, Pennsylvania. Cherrie was just eight years old and was in the third grade at a nearby school, just north of Pittsburgh.
“[Cherrie’s] family last talked to her that morning,” Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Max DeLuca told Dateline. Cherrie went to school that day and, after the final bell that afternoon, she got on the school bus to go home, he added. She got off the school bus around 4:10 p.m. with three other children, Trooper DeLuca said.
Debbie Burk, a mother who lived near Cherrie’s family, told the Associated Press in 1985 that she always sat in her car at the school bus stop, waiting for her own children to come home.
″I sat in the car and watched the kids get off. They played for a while,” Debbie told the AP. “I made sure Cherrie had walked past the car, then I drove away.”
The bus stop was only about 50 feet from Cherrie’s house. But Cherrie never made it home.
“When Cherrie did not arrive home by 4:30 pm her parents began to look for her and place phone [calls] in an attempt to locate her,” Trooper DeLuca said. “When Cherrie could not be located, police were contacted within an hour by her stepfather and mother. Police responded to Cherrie’s residence and her mother and stepfather were present to provide statements.”
Other children who were on the school bus that day would later tell authorities a blue van had been trailing the bus. “It had a skiing scene – a mountain and a skier – painted on the side,” Trooper DeLuca told Dateline.
“I caught a glimpse of the blue van in the mirror,” Debbie, the neighbor who had picked her own children up from the bus stop that day, said in 1985. “It was right behind me. My son saw the van, too.”
Though nobody ever saw Cherrie enter or stop at the van, Trooper DeLuca says the van has been of concern in Cherrie’s disappearance since day one.
“There were vans checked all over the place. I don’t think it even had to have a skier on the side,” he said. “If it fell in the parameters of any types of van with a scene painted on the side, they were pretty much stopped and questioned.”
Despite tireless investigative efforts by local, state, and national agencies for nearly 34 years, no van has ever been seized in connection with Cherrie’s disappearance, and there has never been a main person of interest.
“It’s a rural area with a low crime rate,” Trooper DeLuca said. “It’s still like that today. It’s not heavily populated.”
Dateline was unable to reach Cherrie’s family for this report, but Trooper DeLuca, who was assigned the case in the summer of 2017, says he’s still in touch with Cherrie’s mother, Janice McKinney.
“Her mother would just like to have some closure and get some answers after all these years,” he said. “It’s one of those cases that has really captured a lot of people’s attention. Some cold cases, you don’t get any tips on it for months, years, or a long period of time. This is a case that it seems like it really captivated people’s attention. So we’re always getting some kind of lead or tip to follow up on.”
"There's not ever one day that I don't think about Cherrie,” Cherrie’s mother Janice told NBC station WPXI at a vigil on the 30th anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance. “I just feel that there is somebody out there that does know, and would ease our family's hearts if they just came forth and told us what happened.”
Cherrie Mahan would be 42 years old today. She was last seen wearing a gray coat, blue denim skirt, blue leg warmers, and beige boots. At the time of her disappearance, she was 4’2” tall and weighed about 68 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes. If you have any information on the circumstances surrounding Cherrie’s disappearance, please call the Pennsylvania State Police Missing Persons unit at 724-284-8100.