For most families, the holiday season is a time to celebrate and spend quality time together. But the Sykes family is in a situation they never thought they'd have to face: searching for a missing family member.
Monica Sykes hasn't been seen in nearly two months.
"You just pray that she is OK, but you don't know," Regina Sykes, Monica's mother, told Dateline. "Two days without talking to her is too long. Now that it's nearing two months, it's terrifying."
The last time anyone saw Monica was on Friday, October 28, 2016. The 25-year-old, who has lived with her older sister and her nephews for about a year, reportedly came home that morning, changed clothes, and headed back out. Her young nephews, who family members say adore their Aunt "Tee Tee," were the ones to see her leave.
"They told their mom Monica told them she was heading out and would get them some candy to give them later that afternoon," Regina told Dateline. "The oldest then said he saw her get into a white car that drove away. That was the last time anyone saw her."
Monica never came home that night. The next day, a Saturday, family members grew concerned. Her mother called Monica's friends. No one, it seemed, had seen or heard from her since Friday.
Monica was planning to head back to school soon. She wanted to one day take over her grandmother's day care business. She is extremely close with her family. Her oldest sister and she are described as "best friends." She is the third youngest of six siblings, one of two girls, who all live in the area surrounding St. Louis. She was always in contact with at least someone in the family.
Monica's mother, Regina, remembers several times in the past when her daughter's phone had died, that Monica would use a friend's phone to check in with loved ones. But now, when those loved ones call or text her phone, there is no reply of any kind. "I want people to know that this is not usual behavior for her:It just isn't our Monica," Regina said.
The Berkeley, Missouri Police Department continues to investigate, but little information has been released in connection with the case. At the time of her disappearance, Monica had started dating a new man, someone her family said they had not yet met. He drives a white car, the same color car Monica's nephew said he saw her get into the day she vanished.
This new boyfriend was questioned by police, along with several of Monica's close friends. Any information that may have been learned from those interviews has not been released.
Authorities have said they are limiting the amount of information available to the public so as to not hinder the ongoing investigation.
"We're treating it as the family would want us to treat it. And that's if it was our own daughter. And that's the steps we're taking," Berkeley Police Department Captain Art Jackson told NBC affiliate KSDK last week.
Family members are pushing on with their own efforts as well. Various searches have been organized, thousands of fliers have been hung, and groups of volunteers have hit the pavement going door to door, talking to anyone willing to listen.
The possibility of human trafficking has arisen, as is often speculated in the cases of missing young women. It’s a possibility that terrifies Monica's family. But whatever may have happened, the family is trying to stay positive and keep Monica's face in the public's eye.
Everyone is hoping someone will come forward and help give the Sykes family the ultimate gift this year: Monica home safe.
"This is our child. This is our family member. It's heartbreaking as a mother to not know where your baby is," Regina told Dateline. "Please, anyone, if you have information, report it."
Monica Sykes is described as 4'11" tall, weighing 100 lbs. with black hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information regarding her disappearance is urged to call the Berkeley, Missouri Police Department at (314) 524-3311.