On Thanksgiving Day, Chareen Nickel knew something was wrong when her daughter Malina didn’t show up for dinner.
“The holidays were always difficult,” Chareen told Dateline. Her daughter shared custody of her two children with her ex-boyfriend. The co-parents often fought over holiday time with the children.
“At first I thought it was just because of a struggle over the kids,” said Chareen, on why Malina missed Thanksgiving dinner.
But then she received a terrifying phone call from a family friend, who said she spotted Malina’s car on the side of the road near the local post office.
“I didn’t know what to think.” Chareen told Dateline. “Did the car break down? Where is she?”
Almost five months later, Chareen is still searching for answers in the 29-year-old’s disappearance.
Malina Nickel, the young mother from Shady Cove, Oregon, was last seen at her home on the night of November 23, 2016 by her 18-year-old nephew.
Malina worked at the local Subway restaurant, and Chareen became even more concerned when her daughter didn’t show up to work that Saturday to pick up her paycheck.
On Monday, November 28, 2016, after Malina missed her shift at work, Chareen called the Jackson County Sheriff’s department and reported her daughter missing.
“I wish I didn’t wait… before I called,” said Chareen. “But she is an adult.”
According to Malina’s family, she had problems with drugs including opioids and had recently starting using heroin.
At the time of her disappearance, Malina was on probation and had a warrant out for her arrest, according to the Jackson County Sheriff’s department.
But, as Chareen told Dateline, “She would never just leave her children. She has never been gone more than a day.”
Chareen said that she was worried police would dismiss her concerns and say that Malina was just off partying.
However, Detective Gabe Burchfiel from the Jackson County Sheriff’s office confirmed that Malina’s disappearance seemed suspicious.
According to officials, Malina left her purse and other personal items at home before she went missing. This is unusual for someone who would choose to run off.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s office has been actively investigating Malina’s disappearance as a missing person’s case.
“We have talked to almost everyone in Shady Cove,” Detective Burchfiel told Dateline. “There are a lot of leads, but they have been fizzling out or circling back to the same information.”
Detective Burchfiel believes that some community members may have more information than they are willing to share with police. “We have heard rumors about people involved but, when we question them, they say they don’t know anything,” he told Dateline. “While we have suspects, we need to follow laws and court proceedings.”
Chareen has decided to take on her own investigation.
“I have gone door to door in the area where her car was last seen,” she told Dateline. “I have gone searching fields, looking under bridges, and traveling all over.”
Despite all of the efforts, Malina has yet to be found.
“It has been very hard on our health,” said Chareen. “My husband and I have dropped over 20 pounds. We’ve been an emotional wreck.”
Malina’s disappearance has also been very difficult for her friends.
“I was in shock. And I’m still in shock,” Tessa Phenix told Dateline. “You see this stuff on TV, but you don’t think something like this would ever happen to someone you know.”
Detective Burchfiel explained that this case is very difficult to solve because of the lack of concrete evidence. “We are looking for her, but no one knows what she was wearing or exactly when she left.”
Now that the winter snow has finally melted away, officials are putting a plan into action to help locate Malina.
“When she first went missing there was too much snow for cadaver dogs to look for her,” Detective Burchfiel told Dateline. “Now we are slowly getting more locations and have four or five specific areas to search.”
“I have hope, and I have faith,” said Chareen. “I just have a lot of fear for my daughter.”
The Nickel family and officials are asking people to come forward with any information on Malina’s possible whereabouts.
“Oh, my goodness. If I could just see her again, I would just hold her so tight. I cannot tell you how fantastic that would be,” Chareen said.
Malina Nickel is described as 5’2’’ with reddish-brown hair, weighing 110 lbs.
Anyone with information regarding her case is urged to contact the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department at 541-774-6800.