August 12, 1985, 6:30PM. It was a hot summer afternoon in the Kingsbridge Heights neighbourhood of the Bronx borough of New York City. Terona “Terry” Hodrick, 28, was relaxing on the porch of her Briggs Avenue residence. It was about all she could do at this point in her 8-month pregnancy. Equilla, Terona’s 8-year-old daughter, was sitting a few feet away from her and kept her company.
Nine years old Equilla was exactly one week away. She was a lovely young Black girl with “a bright, engaging smile”, warm hazel eyes, a light brown complexion, and curly brown hair. She had a gap between her two front teeth and wore glasses. She stood at 4’11” and weighed about 80 pounds, which made her a little tall for her age. She wore a tank top with yellow and red markings, blue cut-off jean shorts, and light blue sneakers on this particular day because it was supposed to be warm.
Equilla was a young lady who was responsible, well-behaved, and mature. She had a good head on her shoulders and was described as “smart” and “very savvy,” especially considering her young age. She was typically a happy child and devoted to her mother. While Equilla was a native of the Bronx, Terona was raised in Toledo, Ohio. She possessed “street smarts that inner-city kids learn the way country-club kids learn golf, by just being there,” in the words of author Brian McDonald.
At the time, the Kingsbridge Heights neighborhood had a reputation for being unsavory. Only about two years earlier, a number of reports on Briggs Avenue had been produced by the documentary series Our Block. Journalist Vic Miles, the host, questioned resident Mary Neil about the neighborhood. It ain’t nothing, she replied without holding back. Too many issues. People are stealing, robbing, and beating you up.
Terona nevertheless tried her best to give Equilla, whom she referred to frequently as “her baby,” a safe and contented home despite the circumstances. Terona was a devout woman, and they would pray together most nights. Terona would then put Equilla to bed. She would sing her a lullaby, stroke her daughter’s head and back, and let her sleep. Some even claimed that Equilla paid it forward in her own special way. According to Brian McDonald, “She loved her mother and in some ways took care of her.”
As they passed, a few of Terona’s neighborhood friends paused to talk with her. Equilla sat watching the street in front of her, uninterested in the adult conversation that was taking place. A Mister Softee ice cream truck was passing by when she suddenly heard a familiar jingle.
Equilla was now drawn to what she had noticed. On such a warm day, who wouldn’t want ice cream? She asked her mother for cash and a frozen treat as she turned to face her. She refused because Terona had already given her money that day.
Equilla, however, was adamant. Terona turned to look at her as she stood up, but she had already left. Equilla turned left around the corner onto E 194th Street, where the truck was parked, after running down Briggs Avenue.
Terona was too far along in her pregnancy to chase after Equilla. She didn’t worry though because the young girl always came back right away. Equilla was in her own neighborhood, so it wasn’t like she was in a strange place. Terona would later say, “I figured that she was just going down the block and would be back.”
She had no idea that she was about to enter the worst possible scenario for a mother. Later that night, Terona’s niece informed her that she had observed Equilla playing video games at the neighborhood arcade (which later changed its name to a pizzeria). Terona started to get concerned when the afternoon turned into the evening and Equilla still hadn’t shown up. She dialed 911 after feeling unwell and calling the police.
To their credit, the NYPD responded right away after Terona called 911. Given the circumstances and Equilla’s age, they were worried that she might have been kidnapped.
Police were able to locate an ice cream vendor who had been operating in the area at the time—likely the driver of the truck Equilla had been evading—but he was unable to recall seeing the girl. It was never made clear whether this meant Equilla had been kidnapped before making it, whether she had decided against going to the truck, or even if the vendor had simply misremembered.
Although Equilla’s cousin claimed to have seen her at the arcade, police were never able to corroborate the report. In addition, it appeared that no one had seen Equilla since she ran down the block, giving the impression that the young woman had simply vanished.
Scent dogs and helicopters were used by the NYPD to conduct a thorough search, and they temporarily based themselves in the Hodrick residence. The search would last for at least the next two weeks. Detective Frankie McDonald led the search with assistance from his partner John Borris and about a dozen other police officers.
McDonald had been a member of the 52nd Precinct for four years. He had served in the NYPD for 18 years, working as a detective, uniformed officer, and undercover officer. In his entire career as a police officer, McDonald, who was praised for being calm and kind, was shot at three times, but he never once pulled the trigger on his own weapon.
Terona Hodrick remembered the detective as “the nicest man.” “I loved him, and so did my family. I gave him the name of my son. He made every effort possible. As soon as Terona made that initial 911 call, McDonald started looking for Equilla and wanted to do everything in his power to find the young girl.
Finally, either on August 16 or 17, a few days after Equilla vanished, one of the dogs discovered her scent near a Metro North train track on Webster Avenue. The dog guided the search team to a sizable fence hole.
The hole was a gate leading to a homeless camp, the detectives had learned from the neighborhood. Equilla might have been taken inside. McDonald and Borris desired to conduct a search. The problem was that Metro North would have to stop the trains in order to grant them permission to search the tracks.
A representative was dispatched to speak with McDonald and Sergeant Malvey, the squad leader. “Do you know how many people you want to inconvenience,” he asked the two police officers, explaining that it would be impossible to grant their request.
McDonald was internally furious at the response; did he really believe that commuters’ convenience came before a child’s life? Yet he maintained a professional demeanor. “This is an urgent police matter,” he said. “We’re looking for an eight-year-old girl who went missing. Your cooperation is required.
“I’m sorry,” the man replied. “There’s nothing I can do.”
“Well, who can?” Malvey questioned. A supervisor took his call and provided him with the same response. Malvey ultimately escalated the situation to the vice president of Metro North, the supervisor’s supervisor.
The vice president expressed sympathy and offered a solution. Although they wouldn’t completely stop the trains, he agreed to slow them down to 30 mph so that the police could search the tunnel’s side of the tracks.
Although the search was only supposed to last 30 minutes, once the police entered the tunnels, they were unable to be ejected. McDonald and Borris, along with six uniformed police officers and a similar number of Emergency Service officers, searched the area for the following three hours. About a dozen homeless people they encountered inside the tunnel were questioned by them.
When they came across a man with “obvious emotional problems” and several children’s dolls in his possession, they initially believed they had made a discovery. However, the police released him after questioning him for several hours because it was obvious he was innocent.
Thousands of commuters were nonetheless delayed as a result of the protracted search. The incident would be covered in news stories that evening, but not because an eight-year-old girl was missing; rather, it was covered because it appeared that the police had chosen to delay the trains.
Dejected that the search had turned up nothing, Detective McDonald went back to the 52nd Precinct to set up a hotline and check for tips and sightings. He had already made contact with a number of missing person’s organizations by this time, and they were handing out flyers featuring Equilla’s name and photo throughout New York and other cities. A hotline had also been established for tips and sightings.
A TV crew quickly entered the office though, interrupting the detective. He was asked if he was the one who had decided to slow the trains by a reporter who shoved a microphone in his face.
“Nobody chose to do that. We decided to look for a missing child,” he responded.
But the reporter started to query once more. She was interrupted by McDonald who asked, “What is your story? that a missing eight-year-old girl? or that some scumbags from Westchester had a cold dinner when they got home? I am at a loss for words with you.
The lead detective on Equilla’s case would be Detective McDonald. For the rest of his career, he would devote himself to it completely. Even he acknowledged, “probably half of my working hours are spent on this case.”
He and Detective Borris “chased every lead” and put all their strength into the investigation while working on Equilla’s case. Numerous interviews were conducted with neighbors, family members, local business owners, and anyone else who might have known something.
Some have compared Equilla’s disappearance to that of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy from Lower Manhattan who vanished in 1979 and was later found to have been murdered (Pete Hernandez, 51, confessed to Etan’s murder in 2012; five years later, he was given a life sentence). Equilla and Etan shared a similar age, both were thought to have been kidnapped by unidentified individuals, and Equilla lived just 15 miles to the north of Etan.
In the case of Etan, a large task force was formed, and more than a hundred detectives were assigned to the case. However, for Equilla, the resources simply didn’t seem to exist: Borris and McDonald handled the case essentially by themselves.
Terona later reflected, “I thought the police did everything they could to find my child. “They labored arduously. in particular Frankie McDonald. From Valentine Avenue to Webster, they combed through every apartment complex in the area. They did a thorough search for Equilla, and I appreciate that.
At the beginning of the investigation, Detective McDonald made it a point to visit the Hodrick home once every day, even on days when he had few updates and little more to offer than words of comfort — and as time went on, those days became more frequent. He was incredibly sympathetic toward Terona Hodrick. He later said, “The mother was a genuine victim and this was a genuine missing child.” “In those situations, a family member was frequently involved. In this case, no.
One specific incident has stayed with him. A few weeks after Equilla vanished, Terona was crying as McDonald spoke to her outside on the Hodricks’ porch. As he was trying to come up with a consoling response for her, Terona suddenly encircled him in her arms. At first, stunned, he had no choice but to hold her. He couldn’t help but feel her anguish as if it were his own as she cried, tightening his arms around her and causing his own eyes to well up with tears.
Although McDonald and the other officers involved in the case may have given it their all, the media paid little attention to Equilla’s case. In the last few months of August, a few brief articles summarized the case. In the following few months, a few missing bulletins appeared in New York papers, bearing Equilla’s face and description (and, strangely, misspelling her name as “Equila Hondrick”). There is not much more than that.
“The media did not cover this case. Only after we slowed down the trains did it receive press. Very dissimilar to Etan Patz,” lamented McDonald. Numerous people think that Equilla’s race and the neighborhood she was from may have played a role in why her case received so little attention; perhaps a missing Black girl from the Bronx wasn’t deemed “newsworthy.”
Almost fifty different apartments, storefronts, and abandoned buildings were searched by McDonald and a few Emergency Service officers in the initial weeks alone following Equilla’s disappearance. Terona insisted on going along each time. In the squad car, McDonald would always sit next to her and assure her that they would find Equilla.
Terona gave birth to a boy not long after. Equilla’s younger brother was never introduced to her. Terona was plagued by dreams of her missing daughter running into her arms and hugging her during what should have been some of the happiest days of her life. When she woke up, the dream was all the more heartbreaking.
Terona believed that a childless woman who desired a daughter of her own had likely taken Equilla; however, how could someone be so cruel as to take her child away from her? She didn’t go to therapy or meet with the parents of the other ‘unlucky 7’, also known as Equilla and the other six New York City children who have gone missing and are thought to have been kidnapped starting with Etan Patz in 1979. She made an effort to keep her daughter’s belongings and photos hidden around the house. She couldn’t look at them because it hurt too much.
But even as the months went by, her conviction held strong. Terona was confident that Equilla was still alive and would eventually return home. In a 1986 interview, she said, “I know she’s out there somewhere, and I hope that someone is taking care of her. She’ll return to me, I’m sure of it.
The disappearance of one of their own children shocked the Briggs Avenue neighborhood in the meantime. Local businesses displayed flyers with Equilla’s photo on their walls, and whenever McDonald visited the area (which was frequently), locals would stop him and inquire about the progress of the investigation.
Several months after the disappearance, a block party was held on East 194th Street on a Saturday afternoon. Fernando Ferrer, a local politician, thanked the community for its efforts in helping to find Equilla and urged them to continue searching. The public should call this number if they have any information, he said as he introduced Detective McDonald.
McDonald saw an elderly woman rummaging through a trash can as he was returning to his car from the block party. As he passed, she yelled to him, “You’re never going to find that little girl alive. She is interred in Yonkers, up.
McDonald initially disregarded her because he assumed she was making up since he was aware of her potential for being a little “nut”. He didn’t fully comprehend the significance of what she had said until he was on his way back to the 52nd Precinct. Yonkers. When the woman vanished, he hurried back and asked the locals if they had seen where she had gone, but no one could locate her.
In another situation, he might have ignored it. But he was troubled by the woman’s mention of Yonkers of all places. Terona Hodrick once dated a man who mostly resided in an apartment in Yonkers and occasionally stayed in a house on Briggs Avenue. Despite the fact that Terona didn’t use drugs because she didn’t want Equilla to be exposed to them, this boyfriend was referred to as a “junkie”.
Only a few blocks from the Hodricks’ house, on the evening of Equilla’s disappearance, the boyfriend had been spotted running shirtless on Hoe Avenue. Witnesses had seen him later that evening riding along with another man in a red car. McDonald was able to identify the other man in the car as the boyfriend’s Yonkers roommate after speaking with at least a dozen people.
Throughout the first few months of the investigation, McDonald repeatedly brought in this boyfriend for questioning. Late into the night, the detective would question him, but nothing would come of it. McDonald once believed he had made a break. How could he live with what he had done, he questioned his boyfriend. He described how Equilla’s adorable face would keep him awake at night and prevent him from ever forgetting.
The boyfriend then started crying hysterically. He slowly raised his head and started talking. McDonald believed that he would finally admit. However, all he said was, “I didn’t do nothing.”
Neither the interrogations of the Yonkers roommate nor any of these ended up yielding any information. McDonald spent the following months trying to find the homeless woman, but was never successful. He speculated that she might have passed away or ended up in a facility. However, the incident stuck in his mind: How did the woman know about Yonkers? What else might she have disclosed to him?
When Equilla’s case was highlighted on national television in 1986, it probably garnered the most media attention it had up to that point. The case was covered in the second of three specials called “Missing: Have You Seen This Person?” (a predecessor to “Unsolved Mysteries,” also by the same creators), which profiled various missing person’s cases and issued public requests for information. In front of viewers of national television, Terona Hodrick sobbed as she described the last time she had seen her daughter. The public saw a recreation of Equilla’s fateful run toward the ice cream truck in which the child actress playing Equilla was unidentified.
These specials were broadcast across the country and helped in the recovery of some of the missing people who were featured. Additionally, Equilla received tips. But none succeeded.
There were still leads coming in by the end of 1986. Detective McDonald would examine each one individually. Four or five times a week, he continued to speak with Terona Hodrick. But despite his best efforts, he didn’t make much headway in his search for the child.
He was almost certain that Equilla, who would have been 10 at this point, was deceased at this point. She had all the characteristics of a young victim of a sexual predator. He questioned Terona’s assertion that someone who wanted a child had kidnapped Equilla. If her mother had still been alive, Equilla would have made an effort to contact her because she loved her so much. McDonald was confident that Terona would have found a way to reach her by now given her street smarts.
Despite all the odds, Detective McDonald couldn’t help but hold out hope that he was mistaken. In addition to desperately wanting to find Equilla alive, he also wanted to crack the case.
Even though time had passed, he had never been able to bring himself to rule Terona’s Yonkers boyfriend out as a suspect. However, the detective was never able to substantiate any of the allegations against him or the other suspects.
Finally, after a career spanning roughly 20 years, McDonald left the NYPD in January 1987. He took one final look at the file on Equilla’s case one week before his scheduled retirement date. It was 25 pounds at this point.
He then visited Terona Hodrick and informed her that he was handing in his badge. She didn’t cry when she heard the news because she was dry-eyed. She simply gave a slow head shake and sighed, saying, “Well, that’s the end of it.”
Later, McDonald admitted, “She was correct.” There wasn’t much left to be done after I left, despite the Police Department’s best efforts to locate her daughter.
He accepted a position as the director of security at Pace University after retiring. The biggest letdown of his professional life, in his opinion, was not being able to locate Equilla. He hasn’t stopped thinking about the young girl he got to know and love but was never able to meet until this day. “Everything that was possible was done. We made an effort. We really tried.”
With a new lead detective, the investigation went on as usual. Though leads kept coming in, none of them materialized into anything. Terona Hodrick finally lost the will to live in her Briggs Avenue house in 1988. She had to look at the street in front of her every day she was there because her young daughter had run down it to get some ice cream and had never returned. She got remarried and relocated to Manhattan because she needed to leave the Bronx. Those unpleasant memories. I arrived here.
Little progress was made in the investigation throughout the 1990s. The case was abandoned over time. Terona was overjoyed in 1999 when a new task force was established to look into unresolved missing child cases. She told the NY Post, “I just feel it right here in my heart that she’s alive, and I just wish she could come home.” “I can hear her calling, but I’m unable to approach her. I am sorely missing her.
In an episode of “America’s Most Wanted” the following year, which aired on January 8th, 2000, Equilla’s case was discussed. When it aired, she would have been 23 years old.
Later that year, a detective from the NYPD would call Frankie McDonald and ask him for assistance. His partner and he had been looking into the disappearances of several young girls who had happened close to where Equilla had. Since McDonald was the expert on the case, he was wondering if they might be connected to Equilla.
McDonald immediately entered. But after spending about a week working with the police, he quickly understood the cases weren’t connected. Yet another letdown.
Terona said, “I still be praying that she will come home,” in an interview from 2001, which is the most recent one I could find. Equilla would have turned 25 by that time. “I can feel her, and I know in my heart that she is alive. You are familiar with how a mother and her child interact. They are palpable. She is present. I am aware that she is not underground. Not my child.
However, Frankie McDonald doesn’t think so. He admitted to the NY Press in 2001, “I hate to upset the mother but I don’t think she is alive.” “Equilla was extremely intelligent for a child of eight. She knew how to reach her. She was both witty and streetwise. She was going to go for the mother. She had a good relationship with her mother and wasn’t an unruly kid. She would have dialed if she could.
Terona, who continues to reside in New York, has never given up hope that she will one day speak to her cherished daughter once more. “I keep my name in the book whenever I move. I must in order to be found. I will eventually hear from Equilla.
Unfortunately, there have been few recent updates to Equilla’s case, though it remains open. Equilla remains listed as a missing child; anyone with information about her case is requested to call the New York Police Department’s Missing Persons Squad.