The Christmas season is a difficult time of year for the Elvis family.
The last time Terry Elvis saw his daughter it was by the glow of a Christmas tree, he said.
The Elvis family met with media at a conference Friday afternoon at Peachtree boat landing in Socastee ahead of a vigil Sunday that marks the third anniversary of her disappearance – the third year the family has been without Heather.
“It’s pretty excruciating every day, every day, to miss somebody in your life, and just not be able to hug them anymore,” Debbi Elvis, Heather’s mother, said as tears came to her eyes and emotion crippled her voice. “You see things in the store you want to buy for Christmas, and you can’t get them for them.”
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The holiday season brings back a flood of Christmastime memories. It was too painful for Debbi to discuss those memories Friday afternoon when the family met with media to discuss the upcoming vigil.
Heather was last seen Dec. 18, 2013. A 20-year-old at the time, her car was found locked and abandoned at Peachtree boat landing and she remains missing. The vigil
The family holds prayer vigils monthly on the 18th, and last year’s anniversary vigil took on a new tone as the family created an event that wasn’t solely about Heather, but one that invited everyone who was missing a faraway loved one – separated by distance or death – to come to Peachtree boat landing and write their loved one’s name on a luminary.
The drop-in event from 5-8 p.m. Sunday is called “The Second Annual Night of H.E.L.P.P.” The acronym stands for “Hope. Encouragement. Love. Purpose. Perseverance,” according to the Find Heather Elvis Facebook page
The extended meaning reads as: hope for a tomorrow lived in love and harmony, encouragement in a safe place for all people, love on and for each other, focusing on and finding our purpose, and together persevering through every hardship.
“It’s really hard for a lot of people at Christmas time,” said Debbi Elvis. “They feel like their family circle is broken. They can’t do traditions anymore, or the traditions are painful to do. The rest of your family wants to do traditions and you can’t. There’s all kinds of issues that come up.”
In addition to lighting luminaries, the vigil will feature speakers talking about hope and encouragement, a D.J. playing music and resources for those suffering, Debbi said.
The event will be a celebration of those missing from holiday tables and homes, and will focus not on the separation, but the joy in God’s promise of a reunion in eternity and gaining strength in unity, Debbi said.
“There’s a common misconception that this vigil is entirely about Heather, and it is not,” said Morgan Elvis, Heather’s younger sister.
Those suffering aches big and small are invited, as well as those impacted by Hurricane Matthew who are without a home this season, the family said.
“This is about a community coming together no matter what your pain, or who’ve lost [someone],” said Morgan Elvis.
The family members said they see the anniversary vigil as a way to give back to a community that has stood by them the past three years and came out to support them rain or shine in extreme heat or bitter cold.
The act of helping is the only thing that breathes any semblance of joy into Debbi’s life, she said.
“It’s actually the only thing that has brought joy in my life at all for the past three years. It seems like when I’m able to help somebody else that’s the only thing that has helped me feel better. Nothing else does,” she said.
The family members said they still hold hope in their hearts that Heather will be found.
“She will be found one day,” said Debbi Elvis.
“That’s a hope you can’t give up on,” said Terry Elvis.
Debbi said she wanted the community to remember that Heather remains missing and to keep eyes and ears open.
“If there’s any piece of information that’s been bothering someone for years, or something they’ve been wondering should they have told a long time ago – It’s not too late to come forward with information on any of these people that are missing in Horry County and even in the state,” said Debbi Elvis.
Married couple Sidney and Tammy Moorer have been charged with kidnapping in connection with Heather Elvis’ disappearance.
Sidney Moorer was tried on the kidnapping charge in June, and a deadlocked jury resulted in a mistrial. Since then, Circuit Court Judge R. Markley Dennis Jr., who presides over the case, ruled in favor of a motion filed by Sidney Moorer to change the re-trial’s venue. The judge switched the re-trial’s location to neighboring Georgetown County after a hearing on the matter in September.
However, a re-trial date has not been set. Sidney Moorer also faces an obstruction of justice charge in connection with the case, and a re-trial date has not been set for that either. A trial date for Tammy Moorer has not been set.
In his order, Dennis noted that Horry County “has been saturated with the case” due to social media exposure – a revelation the court made after examining juror questionnaires.
“For example,” Dennis said, “the court found that there have been a number of reports of potential jurors posting on Facebook that they ‘know how to get around the judge by just saying that the(y) can be unbiased.’ ”
Debbi said the family is not happy about the trial changing to Georgetown County. She thought a fair trial could be had in Horry County and said plenty of people here still didn’t have knowledge about the case or the first trial.
She was upset by comments made on social media by people saying they could get around the judge.
Being part of a jury panel is a very important role, Debbi stressed, one that should be taken extremely seriously.
“Jury duty is so important. The victim’s family and the people that are being charged both depend on those juries to be fair and impartial, and if you’re flippant about it and you don’t take it seriously you mess up the system and it doesn’t work,” she said.
She said the first jury seemed very dedicated to the task and appeared to pay close attention to everything, but said she thought it was unfortunate they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision.
Debbi has said those days in court over the summer were traumatic for her, and said there’s no way to prepare for it again.
“It’s still never easy to walk into that courtroom and just relive everything that happened,” she said.
Sidney and Tammy Moorer were charged with murder in February 2014 in connection with Elvis’ case and were jailed for about a year until they were released on bond. The murder charges were dropped earlier this year, but they each remain charged with kidnapping.
The couple, attorneys and Horry County police on the case are bound from speaking about it by a gag order that was put in place in 2014.
Polly Caison, Tammy’s mother, told The Sun News the family is ready to have another day in court and move on with life, because for her, the Moorers and their three children life has been put on hold.
“It’s like a nightmare for me, and I just want to wake up from that nightmare and have my family back again because I did not raise a murderer, and my son-in-law is not a murderer,” she said.
She said the Moorers have been doing well since Sidney was released after a roughly two-month stay in jail after a judge ruled he broke the gag order by speaking with a media outlet during the June trial.
But it’s difficult trying to carry on while the charges hang over her daughter and son-in-law’s heads, Caison said.
“We’ve just been trying to live our lives the best way that we can. It’s hard to go to work everyday. It’s hard to go out to places and people look at you and think you’ve done something, or your family’s done something, and you know in your heart that it’s not true,” she said.
During the trial, prosecutors said video surveillance showed Sidney Moorer’s truck heading to and from the direction of the landing.
The Moorer’s home sat behind Caison’s on the same stretch of property off S.C. 814, and Caison said she was up for work around 3:30 a.m. that day, and Sidney and his truck were there.
Caison said police didn’t ask her, her late husband or other daughter about their movements that day, and she thought the time line prosecutors presented didn’t add up.
Caison didn’t know anything about Elvis’ disappearance until Tammy allowed police to look around the home on Dec. 20, 2013. Caison said she was shocked by the situation then, but never dreamed that it would spiral into what it has become.
“I could not believe that my child was in jail a year for murder. I just could not believe it,” said Caison. “I never would have expected that. Never.”
She said Sidney was telling the truth when he told a media outlet during the trial that he was buying a pregnancy test for Tammy, not Heather, that night.
She said she was glad the trial has been moved to Georgetown County.
Caison said she hoped Elvis was found, but stressed her family was not involved in her disappearance.
“I want it behind us, and I want the truth to come out,” she said of the trial.