LAFAYETTE, La.–Hundreds gathered Tuesday night at Park Sans Souci in Lafayette for a candlelight vigil in honor of 22-year-old Mickey Shunick, the UL Lafayette anthropology student who went missing early Saturday morning. Her disappearance has sparked an intense search effort by family, friends and law enforcement, and her story has garnered the attention of national and international media outlets, including ABC’s “Good Morning America,” who was on hand for the event.

“We just can’t say enough about how appreciative we are–how amazed we are at the huge turnout, the community support,” said Brettly Wilson, a close friend of Shunick’s and the last person to see her. “It’s really manifested here tonight.”

That support was given a number in terms of the volunteers who have stopped by the Ryan Street home that is being used as an unofficial base of operations for the local search effort. More than 450 people have stopped by the home to volunteer their time, whether that time is spent in canvassing neighborhoods and businesses with flyers or in searching areas where Shunick may have ridden past on her bicycle, the group announced.

It was also evident in the generous contribution of an unnamed donor; the reward for any information that leads to the return of Shunick now stands at $20,000, up from $10,000 thanks to that donation.

A panel of Shunick’s family and closest friends also called on the community at-large to continue talking about her, especially on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.

“Everyone has been asking all of us, ‘What can I do?’,” said Josh Coen, another of Shunick’s close friends. “And that’s talk, connect. Tell everyone you know. Facebook has been an amazing tool…Re-blog it, re-post.”

The speed at which the group’s Find Mickey Shunick Now Facebook page has gained followers has been nothing short of amazing. Monday morning, just over 900 users had ‘liked’ the page. As of Tuesday night, that number was more than 7,000. The passion and fervor of Shunick’s supporters can be seen by simply viewing the news feeds of even the most disconnected Facebook profiles. Many users have changed their profile pictures to images of Shunick. Many more have shared the literally hundreds of posts and links about the case.

The quick spread of information has led to the story being picked up by the Huffington Post, Fox News, Nancy Grace, CNN, “Good Morning America”, and many others. A crew from the ABC morning show arrived toward the end of the event; they are in town to interview the Shunick family for a segment that will air Wednesday morning.

Many members of Lafayette’s cycling community also made their presence known at the vigil. Around the perimeter of the park, bicycles dotted nearly every light and sign post, and as the crowd dispersed at the end of the event, the sheer number of bikes on the road was noticeable.

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But just as the vigil served as a public session for the most up-to-date information on the search for Shunick, it was even more so an emotional outlet for the many who confidently believe that she is still alive and that she will be returned safely.

Ashely Says, another of Shunick’s friends (she has many), poured out her heart and her feelings about Shunick. Moved to the point of tears, she needed the help of friends to complete her thoughts.

Says described Shunick as a dependable friend whom she could approach with any topic, no matter how personal. Shunick is also an avid cyclist, is extremly athletic and is a lover of horses. According to the group, she works on a horse farm, and she owns two of her own horses.

“It’s been a very long and grueling few days,” she said. “We haven’t lost hope, and we know that we’re going to find her very soon.”

A Catholic priest led the vigil in prayer, while a Methodist pastor started the candle lighting ceremony. Probably the most palpable moments, though, followed. A singer and guitarist duo played an emotionally stirring rendition of the Beatles “All You Need Is Love.” The many in attendance joined in singing the chorus, their lit candles gently swaying in front of them. By the end of the song, tears were flowing from the eyes of several in the audience and of those on the stage.

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Shunick was last seen when she was leaving Wilson’s home on Ryan Street at about 2 a.m. Saturday. Her home near the intersection of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Congress Street would have taken about 30 minutes to reach on bike, but she never made it there. Her family became even more worried when she didn’t make it to her brother’s graduation Saturday night.

An unofficial search by friends and family began the following day. Officials from several agencies, including Lafayette Police, Louisiana State Police, and the FBI, began a search in earnest Monday, sweeping Shunick’s presumed bike path on foot, horse, car, and helicopter. So far, there has been no break in the case, though police say they are following up on all leads. Police have set up a telephone tipline, 337-291-8633, for any information that may lead to the discovery of where Shunick may be.

As the investigation continues, though, friends and family say they will not give up in their search for her, and they refuse to believe a worst case scenario may have occurred.

“Mickey loved this community, and obviously this community loved Mickey,” Says said, “and we just want our friend back–we just want her home.”


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