Philadelphia, PA -- Sept. 6, 1995 -- Thirteen-year-old Amanda Trippett, an honor student at E.H. Vare Middle School, was reported missing by her family in the Passyunk Homes projects.
Less than two weeks later, police say, they called off the search after Amanda's mother assured them that the girl was all right and was staying with a relative.
And police believed that was the end of the story - until 11 months later, on April 24, 1995, when Amanda's 20-year-old sister, Shiketta, called
"She wanted to know where her sister was," said Lt. Joseph Brooks of the South Detectives Division. "If Shiketta hadn't called us, this case would still be closed."
So, for the last five months, police have been looking for Amanda, the petite girl who made shamrocks for her seventh-grade classroom, planted marigolds and crabapple trees around her school at 24th Streetand Snyder Avenue, and spoke of one day becoming a judge.
On Friday, the search took a grisly turn when children playing behind the housing project, located west of Veterans Stadium, found the body of a girl stuffed in plastic trash bags.
The body was behind a fence that separates the project from railroad tracks - and just a stone's throw from Amanda's house on Hoyt Terrace.
The body was that of a girl between the ages of 13 and 15 who appeared to have been killed by blows to the head with a blunt instrument, police said.
The body was clothed in a cream-colored blouse and flowered skirt. That was how Amanda was said to have been dressed when she disappeared, police said.
The medical examiner's office has asked for the girl's dental records and hopes to identify the body by next week. Police say they are proceeding on the assumption that the body is Amanda's.
Lt. Brooks said the girl missed only four days of school in 1994 and had no history of running away.
"It doesn't appear that Amanda did anything voluntary," Brooks said. "We have not eliminated anybody as a possibility as being responsible for Amanda's disappearance. That includes family, friends or anyone who formerly lived at her residence."
After the body was found, homicide detectives took over the case from South detectives. Police have had extensive interviews with Amanda's mother, Delores Trippett, who told a reporter that she had failed one police polygraph but had passed another. Police declined comment on this.
Police also want to interview Trippett's former live-in boyfriend, who is 44 and no longer lives with her. He could not be reached this week for comment.
Meanwhile, at Amanda's former school, yesterday was the first day back for teachers and administrators, and people had heard about the body. They were taking it hard.
"It's a sad day when a youngster with a bright future and a bright outlook had to come to such a tragic end," said principal Lissa Johnson.
"I had very high expectations for Amanda," said Monica Millett, her seventh-grade teacher. Millett said Amanda, whose birthday was July 12, got all A's and B's.
"She was very organized, very determined. She had real charisma. She had true leadership quality, and the students gravitated towards her.
She was a peacemaker. . . . This is horrible, horrible news.
"She was becoming a young lady," Millett said. ". . . She had beautiful eyes, a gorgeous smile."
Amanda's disappearance was "tough on the whole class," Millett said. ''Everyone was trying to figure out where could she be. She hadn't told anyone that she was leaving."
Amanda was a member of the Vare Sweethearts, an after-school club where girls discussed boyfriends and dating and their plans for the future, said Montien Haliburton, a teacher who led the group. Amanda told the group that her goal was to become a lawyer and a judge.
She talked about how she planned to continue to study hard to achieve her goals, Haliburton said.
"She sees so much violence that she wanted to solve problems," Haliburton said.
Some of those problems were right outside Amanda's door: Passyunk Homes is in the poorest section of the city, with 80 percent of the residents living below the federal poverty line.
Delores Trippett said she last saw her daughter the day after she took her to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, because Amanda had complained of stomach pains.
The next morning, Trippett, 42, left for class at Benjamin Frankin High School, where she was finishing up her diploma. She had dropped out of
school as a teenager.
"The last time I saw her that morning, I kissed her and said, 'Stay in bed and I'll see you when I get home,' " she said.
"I know my man was at home at the time I left," she said. "He gave her $5. He said she left and went out.
"I have no idea where my child is at," her mother said before she broke down in tears. "Please, Lord, give me the strength. I want to find my child. I have no idea why she left like that."
Amanda's mother speculated that "maybe she was pregnant or something."
Police checked that out, too, at one point searching records in other states for a pregnant girl matching Amanda's description. But then investigators found that less than a month before her disappearance, medical records showed that Amanda hadn't even been sexually active.
A few days after Amanda's disappearance, police said, they tried to contact Trippett without success and finally got in touch with her boyfriend. He said Amanda was fine and was staying with a family member.
However, police said they did not cancel the search until May 26, 1994, when Trippett told them the same thing.
Trippett denies she ever canceled the search.
"I never called or canceled anything, never," she said. "Maybe he might have been the one that canceled."
Police said that when they searched the family's house, they found Amanda's clothing and schoolbooks in order. A diary gave no hint of any motive for leaving home.
Trippett said she felt persecuted by police, who she said had her take a lie-detector test.
"The first time, they said I passed; the second time, they said I lied," she said. "I was shaking; I was trembling.
"They think I'm hiding something," she said. "I'm scared they might come down and lock me up and throw away the key."
Before the body was found, Trippett said she was praying for her daughter's safe return.
"I just pray to the Lord that she'll come back to me," she said. "I want my child back. I miss her. She meant the world to me."
Sept. 8, 1995 -- The body of a girl found stuffed in trash bags last week at the Passyunk Homes public-housing development in South Philadelphia is that of Amanda Trippett, 13, police said yesterday. She had been missing for more than 15 months.
"The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office, through dental records, positively identified her," said Homicide Division Capt. James Brady, who is leading the investigation into the girl's death.