Published: June 5, 2013   |
Updated: June 6, 2013 at 10:13 AM
It's been 37 days since Misti Whitfield was last seen.
Family members have received several leads but have yet to find the 35-year-old Tampa mother of five who lived in the 6700 block of North 10th Street.
The family hired private investigator Brad Sparkman, whom Whitfield once interned for, to help search for their daughter.
Sparkman said she was last seen May 2 around 10 p.m. at Nautical Marine, 5525 W. Hillsborough Ave.
He said Whitfield was involved in two fights with a man who accompanied her to the a boat repair and sales business.
During a Tuesday vigil for Whitfield, Sparkman said he believes Whitfield is dead.
"The conclusion we have now arrived at is find an individual that is deceased," he said later.
However, authorities said this week they have found no evidence to confirm Whitfield's death.
The case is still a missing person investigation, said Andrea Davis, spokeswoman for the Tampa Police Department. "There's no evidence at this point of a homicide," she said.
Still, Whitfield's mother and stepfather, who hired Sparkman, said they also believe she is dead. The stepfather, Mel Ardelean, said his wife felt her daughter was gone just days after she went missing. Ardelean called it a mother's intuition.
"We're not prepared to quit, we won't quit until we get one answer or the other," Ardelean said.
He also said the community in Plant City still has hope. Cathy LaRosa, a friend of the family who has known Whitfield for more than 30 years, said she is heartbroken.
"The longer it takes, the more it grows in our mind," LaRosa said.
Leads continue coming in to Sparkman and the Tampa Police Department.
Sparkman said he expects search warrants and arrests to be made by Sunday.
Whitfield was reported missing to police on May 14.
It is not the first time Whitfield has gone missing, police said. She disappeared in the past due to an alcohol and drug addiction, but has never gone long without contacting family, according to a release from Tampa police.
Whitfield had trouble with substance abuse in the past, her stepfather said, but he is not sure if that's why she's missing.
Whitfield was arrested in 2006 for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia, in 2011 for the manufacture and possession of meth and in 2012 for burglary, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office website.
Sparkman has offered a $25,000 reward for information.
People with information about Whitfield should call crime stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS.