Missing teen Erica Parsons turned 17 years old on Tuesday. A big bouquet of balloons was tied to a tree in front of the Rowan County Courthouse and under it, a birthday note with Parsons' picture.
No one has seen her since sometime in 2011. Law enforcement agencies from the local to the state level have searched for years to find any trace of her. A $50,000 reward for information on her whereabouts or disappearance remains unclaimed.
Intense media coverage of the case, and thousands of leads, have turned up nothing.
Her birth mother, Carolyn Parsons, hasn't seen her daughter in years, but grieves when she thinks about the life the girl may have had living in her adoptive household with Sandy and Casey Parsons.
The week before the missing girl's 17th birthday, in testimony in federal court, family members told a judge that Erica was routinely abused, not only by her adoptive parents Casey and Sandy, but by her siblings, including two younger than her who were told by their parents to pull Erica's hair if she wouldn't play with them.
Family members also said that Erica was locked in a closet, beaten if she relieved herself in the closet, and forced to eat dog food from a can. Her adoptive mother Casey, it is alleged, broke the girl's fingers by bending them backwards.
Her adoptive brother said that on the last night he saw Erica, she "looked like a zombie," with a pale white face. He said that she said she didn't feel good and couldn't breathe.
No one has seen her since that night, despite the claims made by Casey and Sandy that they believe she is alive and well somewhere.
The federal prosecutor said in court that he does not believe Erica is alive, and that Casey and Sandy have an agreement not to reveal what happened to her.
When news of Erica's disappearance originally broke in August, 2013, many who knew Casey and Sandy told WBTV that they didn't even know Erica existed. Neighbors said they had never seen the girl, but had seen the other Parsons children coming and going from the house, playing in the yard, and generally doing the things children do.
In court it was revealed that Erica had been diagnosed with hearing loss during the brief time she spent in public schools. The special needs designation meant that an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) would have to be filed with the state, but investigators say there has been no record of Erica filed in years. No tax records, no medical records, no request for government assistance of any type has been filed using Erica's name or Social Security numbers anywhere in the US since 2009, according to the FBI and the IRS.
Despite the grim outlook, there are those who think that Erica Parsons may be living. There are at least two Facebook groups dedicated to finding Erica and praying for her safe return.
And Carolyn Parsons still holds out hope that the girl she brought into the world seventeen years ago today, and who she gave away because she didn't believe she could give her a suitable life, might somehow still be alive.