6 year old Faye Marie Swetlik went missing from her Cayce, SC front yard, on the afternoon of February 10, 2020. Days later, her remains were found close by after a detailed search of her neighborhood turned up evidence. The police say there is no threat in the community.
On day one, video evidence captures Faye Marie Swetlik getting off the school bus very close to her house. It was a Monday afternoon after a day of first grade at Springdale Elementary in Cayce, South Carolina. Cayce is a small town connected to downtown Columbia, the state capital of South Carolina, and this particular area was just off Highway 301. In the video, you can see most of what she is wearing: a black shirt with neon colors, a floral skirt and polka dot boots.
Her mother, who she lived with in a sort of duplex on Londonderry Square, was spotted with her by neighbors. The mother said she last saw Faye playing outside in the front yard of the home, which sat in a sort of cul de-sac in the community of Churchill Heights, surrounded by wooded areas, at 3:45 pm. When she was unable to find Faye she called 911 at 5 pm.
While many were judgmental of this gap in time, it was likely 4pm by the time Faye went missing. Hearing no disturbance, 15 minutes is not an uncommon amount of time in between glances at a child. Most parents would look inside and outside the house, call the friends and grandmother who lived close in the same neighborhood, and even check the woods before realizing they actually couldn’t find her. After a thorough search and a few minutes of hysteria, it is easily 5 pm.
On the other hand, one or even two hours is not enough time to murder someone, hide the body, clean the crime scene, and get a story together before calling 911.
The 911 tape was released by police after, and the mother seems cooperative and distraught. In particular she says that she “cannot find” Faye and that she “is six, will be seven in June” which indicates she is not trying to imply a story of what happened but is honestly puzzled and is not thinking of her as already deceased. Of course at that time, it is likely she was not.
Because this tape was not released then, and the family would not show their faces in the media, many people became suspicious of the mother.
Still, law enforcement insisted the family, both in and out of state like her father in North Carolina, as well as their friends were all being extremely cooperative. Police held regular press conferences and circulated online updates and flyers. They went door to door within the neighborhood, conducted ground searches, and used dogs to try to find Faye within hours of her going missing.
This continued for at least 48 hours without stopping. Many shared the posts on social media, local news stayed on the case, and immediate neighbors complied with searches and interviews and provided any security footage they had from their own homes.
No Volunteers and No Amber Alert for Faye Swetlik.
However, many were upset there was not an amber alert out on the girl. From the beginning police declared they did not suspect a stranger abduction and had no suspect or car to describe, something needed for that particular type of alert. They certainly raised maximum awareness of Faye being missing, but an Amber Alert was not the legally appropriate type.
They also did not allow volunteers to perform untrained searches in the area in case they accidentally destroyed or intentionally hid evidence, which is standard.
While insisting publicly that they did not expect stranger abduction and that the family was being cooperative, police concentrated their search on a 1 mile radius of the home looking for Faye. This was confusing to many; it seemed they thought she had just wandered off.
On day two, this exact pattern continues, but the FBI joins the hunt. Faye’s teachers and classmates return to school, missing her, unable to explain her absence. A vigil is held at a local church for Faye, and the grandmother gives a statement, without wanting her face shown, to the local news about Faye. The public who were desperate for leads, begins circulating rumors that Faye has been found dead in a creek or that evidence of her has been located in the trunk of a car.
Not long after this, twitter footage surfaces of cars being towed from the property for evidence. In their first regular conference, law enforcement rails against rumors and denies knowing anything about a car towing, doing nothing to quell them. Later they admit the cars were towed but insist this is standard procedure. While searches of the home and polygraphs are often done to exclude family members, cars are not always impounded in missing persons cases.
At this point searches expand and canvassing continues. With the public desperate for something to do, the police release footage of her getting off the bus. They also ask for tips and personal video from the area, and later in the evening release two then one unidentified car photos taken in the area at that time, in an effort to contact everyone who was there that day.
They continue to come up empty handed until day three.
A tip and re-searching an area changes everything. They ask people to clear the area who do not live there, including the media. While checking the trash as it is emptied in the neighborhood, police uncover an item of Faye’s listed on her missing flyer. According to a source, it’s believed to be one of the polka dot rain boots. The residence was not Faye’s but was within 500 feet of where she and her mother lived.
A Death Nearby
The tip, possibly from a roommate, alerted them to the death of a male who lived in the home where Faye’s belongings were found in the trash. The autopsy was not to be completed until the weekend and therefore cause of death not specified at that time, but it is suggested the man had killed himself and possibly left a note.
The man was later identified as Coty Scott Taylor, a 30 year old white male, graduate of Bluffton High School who lived in a townhouse and had no criminal record, history of mental illness, or dealings with the police. Bluffton is a coastal town among Beaufort and Hilton Head. Coty had begun college at University of South Carolina’s Bluffton campus, later transferred to USC Columbia and had not finished. He had worked jobs, including one at Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, and had a girlfriend, sources say.
Coty, Faye’s neighbor, had spoken to police during their initial canvasing when they began looking for Faye.
Faye was found very close by, and police indicated that the area had already been searched and the body had not been there long. It was in the woods between her home and a Napa Autopart store, and police would not speak as to the condition, only that it was being treated as a homicide. All officers were visibly upset.
While the case was still open and Coty not named as Faye’s killer, law enforcement said they were not seeking anyone to arrest in connection with Faye’s homicide and that there was no threat in the community.
A police escort brought Faye’s body back to Columbia after an autopsy in Charleston. Memorials were piled at the community entrance, and counselors were provided for the students at her school on Valentine’s Day. The family asks for grace and a silence to rumors in the wake of the news.
Faye was six years old. She had fair skin, reddish blonde hair, and blue eyes. She was just three and half feet tall and weighed only 35 pounds. She was lactose intolerant; she had a slight speech impediment and a brilliant smile. She was bubbly, kind, and well loved in school. At home, she loved to color and to go find rocks outside with her mom and grandma. Purple and pink were her favorite colors, like the rain boots she was wearing.
Faye’s death is not negligence or accident, but a cruel tragedy for the entire community.
Vigils For Faye
The community continues to mourn through the weekend. Family had first thanked people for bringing food and helping with the search and holding a vigil at a nearby church.
After the little girl was found deceased, her Springdale Elementary school classmates made her Valentines and people from all over the cities brought balloons, animals, flowers and cards to the entrance to the neighborhood where Faye lived and died, Churchill Heights. When it began to rain, people came out to try and protect the memorial. Outpouring of love continued, with Facebook posts and media coverage which strove to capture who this shining six year old girl was.
Saturday, the same day the autopsy was carried out several counties away, another candlelight vigil was held. The family has not made a public statement, but friends say they are grieving hard. They are described as big hearted people. Generously, Caughman-Harman Funeral Home in Lexington has offered to fully cover Faye’s funeral expenses. The same church that put together a prayer vigil, Trinity Baptist of Cayce, will be hosting a public memorial service on February 21st at 7p.m. Memorials continue to go up as the town promises justice for Faye. But it is yet unclear what justice can be had.
On Tuesday, autopsy results will be released in a formal press conference, finally providing some answers.
Pending any official results or statements, this will be updated.
Update: 2/18/2020 press conference autopsy result
Swetlik was also reported as Svetlik
How Do We Stop Children From Going Missing?
All of this begs the question: what more could have been done to stop this? Is it reasonable to blame police? The Carolina’s had more than 80 missing kids in the last year, in addition to reported attempted abductions and internet claims of such.
A composite sketch from 2012 bares a striking resemblance to Coty Scott Taylor. The still unidentified man attempted to abduct three young girls from their neighborhood.
How can they know which ones to follow hardest with their limited resources? How can they do anything without assistance from the public?
Warrants require evidence and evidence often requires tips or testimony. It can be an automatic reaction to blame the parents, but over the years we’ve made narrower and narrower the places children are left alone, and it hasn’t helped. It may be time to stop victim blaming. Telling parents who aren’t guilty of criminal neglect and abuse that they should have watched closer is akin to telling rape victims they should have dressed differently.
The fact is, there is nothing a gazelle can do that does not make it prey for a lion. The problem is the predators in our midst. The problem is these few who in their pain or illness also feel entitled, the way others in pain and illness do not, to take people’s children and end their lives. If we want to prevent this, the answer is not to blame, but to ask for more public security footage to catch people faster, give police more resources and training as needed, and identify what creates these predators. If there had been cameras in Churchill Heights, could Faye possibly have been found before she died?