Jeff Jardine

Search for long-lost mom sends daughter on 22-hour drive from Oklahoma to Modesto

UPDATE, Jan. 6: Brandy Chapman, the Oklahoma woman in Modesto this week searching for her long-lost mother, Shelly Suzanne Jennings, is on her way back to home. Combing the area based upon leads posted on The Bee’s and other Facebook pages, she was unsuccessful in finding her mom, who she has not seen since 1993, when Jennings brought her two other daughters to Modesto. She does have a relative in the area who will continue to follow up on tips and sightings, and Chapman said she will return as soon as she can to resume her search.

“I don’t think my life can go back to normal after this, until I find her,” Chapman said.

ORIGINAL COLUMN:

It’s the kind of thing most children would never wish upon a parent.

But for Brandy Chapman and her sisters, it certainly would simplify the search for their long-lost mother.

“It would be so much easier if she would get arrested again,” Chapman said Monday morning to Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, who called to assure the Oklahoma woman that her mom, 50-year-old Shelly Suzanne Jennings, is in the sheriff’s tracking system and listed as “missing/at risk.”

Easier, because Chapman would at least know where her homeless mom could be found. After all, a stay in the Shasta County jail in Redding last month told Chapman and her sisters that Jennings again is in California and headed to Modesto. That is why, on New Year’s Eve, Chapman left Oklahoma and drove 22 hours to Modesto to look for her, hoping to take her home where Jennings can be reunited with all three of her daughters while also getting the treatment she needs for mental health issues compounded by years of drug abuse.

I wrote last week about Chapman, her sisters and their decades-long quest to find their mother. Jennings moved to Modesto in 1993, bringing daughters Rachel and Julie with her. Chapman’s father had legal custody of her, so she remained in Oklahoma. One day late in 1994, Jennings dropped the two younger girls off at school in Salida and never returned to get them. They saw her only one more time – at a mental facility in Modesto – before their father took them back to Oklahoma. They began looking for her many years ago, and the internet helped a bit because they were able to find some addresses and arrest records in places such as Florida, Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri and Nebraska.

“We were always about two years behind her,” daughter Rachel Ford told me.

That changed early in December, when a friend assisting in their search found her name on the Shasta County jail’s in-custody report posted online. Chapman immediately flew to Sacramento and drove to Redding, only to find out her mother had been released. But while in Redding, Chapman talked with some people who allowed Jennings to spend a night on their sofa and then took her to a truck stop, where she intended to catch a ride to Modesto.

From the photos and descriptions Chapman posted on her Facebook page and that also appeared with my column last week, she received scores of tips involving mom sightings by people from Stockton to Merced, claiming they’d come across Jennings on the streets, in parks or shelters, talked to her or recognized her. So Saturday afternoon, Chapman left Oklahoma and headed west, reaching Albuquerque, N.M., by the time the clock rang in 2017. She arrived Sunday night in Modesto – a place she’d never been – to search the streets, the shelters, the homeless encampments and anywhere else a homeless person might roam.

By 9 a.m. Monday, she’d already talked to homeless folks such as Frank Haynes III at Graceada Park, who is sure he’s seen Jennings around and suggested checking out Roosevelt and Garrison parks. No luck. A Modesto police officer in the same area looked at a photo of Jennings and didn’t recognize her, but suggested Chapman visit police headquarters downtown on Tuesday to talk with the clerk who handles missing person cases.

Chapman visited the Modesto Gospel Mission, where the poster she created with her mom’s information already is on a wall. She visited the Salvation Army’s shelter at Ninth and D streets, talking to people there. Same thing: Looks familiar, but they hadn’t seen her recently.

And she visited The Vine House ministry on Martin Luther King Drive, where they’ve been watching for Jennings as well. Again, no luck. But the trip is young and Chapman is determined.

“My mom’s childhood friend, Genea Bohanan, is with me,” she said. “She wanted to come. She’s tried helping me look for years. So many people have tried. I’d never been to California, but it’s always been on my mind because it’s where my mom went missing.”

Chapman has no idea how her mother will react or respond if and when she does find her. It doesn’t matter.

“We just want to get her the help she needs and make up for lost time.”

And if it takes another arrest to make the reunion happen, so be it.

Want to help?

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Shelly Suzanne Jennings can contact Modesto police at 209-572-9500, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department at 209-552-2468 or 911, or call daughter Brandy Chapman at 918-424-3575.

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