Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jessica Lunsford, Death of a 9-Year-Old

The Purple Dolphin

Homosassa, Florida
Homosassa, Florida

Mark Lunsford immediately called 911 and reported that his daughter was missing. The local police soon started an investigation as friends and family searched for the little girl. Trained police with dogs attempted to track her down, but by the end of the day, all efforts failed to locate Jessica.

The next day state and federal agencies joined the search, and hundreds of volunteers traveled to Homosassa to help comb the area. Days passed. After a week of searching, there was still no sign of Jessica. Mark Lunsford and his parents were sick to death with worry, trying to hold out hope and dispel their worst fears.

Volunteers search the area around the Lunsford home and beyond
Volunteers search the area around the Lunsford home and beyond

Jessica was born on October 6, 1995, in Gastonia, North Carolina. Her parents divorced when she was a year old, and her father was granted custody. Nearly everyone who knew Jessica described her as a quiet girl with a radiant smile. Her pastor, William LaVerle Coats of Faith Baptist Church, told the St. Petersburg Times that "she was very outgoing and friendly but also kind of shy in some respects."  Besides her stuffed tiger, she always slept with a night light and a flashlight on her night table because she didn't like the dark. Her grandmother told Citrus County investigators that Jessica was very particular about her room and didn't like people entering without her permission. According to Ruth Lunsford, she never wandered far from home "because she don't trust people."

Jessica adored her father and loved spending time with him. According to the St. Petersburg Times, together they would go riding on his motorcycle, and he often brought her to the Saloon Bar and Grill on U.S. 19 to sing karaoke. Well-behaved and conscientious about her school work, Jessica told people that she wanted to become a singer, an Olympic swimmer, or a fashion designer. She had just started to experiment with wearing makeup. Her favorite color was purple.

Jessica belonged to a church youth group, King's Kids, and had attended a meeting the night before she disappeared. She'd been preparing for a contest, memorizing a passage from the Bible, Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

She loved dolls and stuffed animals, and her room was crowded with them. After she disappeared, her family noticed that one of her favorite toys was missing, a stuffed purple dolphin that her father had won for her at a county fair.


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