Bustling cities are often the most recognized when discussing certain states. When many people speak about California, they’re often conversing about Los Angeles, San Diego, or San Francisco; New York brings up images of the Big Apple and Times Square; Florida is painted as a beach state with all-night club parties, and Georgia‘s growing city of Atlanta has been referred to as “Black Hollywood.” However, the Peach State is filled with small neighborhoods including Unadilla, a town that garnered recognition following the abduction of Shy’Kemmia Pate in 1998.
It is reported that Unadilla is the type of town where everyone knows one another. On September 4, 1998, Shy’Kemmia and her older sister, LaSwanda Hickey, planned on attending a high school football game. LaSwanda was a senior in high school a member of the ROTC, and performed in color guard. She reportedly woke up from a nap in the afternoon and got herself ready to go to the game, but she noticed Shy’Kemmia wasn’t at their Unadilla project homes. The eight-year-old was just a few houses down the street playing outside on Crumpler Avenue, so the older sister decided to run to the gas station with a friend, fill up her car, and then swing by to pick up Shy’Kemmia on the way back. LaSwanda even waved to her little sister as she passed by.
After running the errand, the LaSwanda returned but Shy’Kemmia Pate was nowhere to be found. There wasn’t an initial panic because the family reportedly believed that Shy’Kemmia got a ride with someone else, but when she also didn’t surface at the football game, they called the authorities for help.
The investigation was a cluster from the beginning. Police told Shy’Kemmia’s family that they couldn’t report her missing until 24 hours had passed—which was not true. When police finally began searching for Shy’Kemmia, they’d lost crucial time and while leads and tips have been plentiful, the little girl has not been seen or heard from since that time. Neighbors took matters into their own hands and gathered together for a search party, and it is reported that as helpful as they believed they were, they destroyed or compromised several areas that were later searched by investigators.
The home where Sky’Kemmia was last seen playing was across the street from a local venue called the Roxy’s Club. It was a high-crime area and drug dealing was abundant, yet still, everyone in the neighborhood knew one another. People played cards outside and unsavory characters were regularly seen on the streets, yet still, there wasn’t a stranger among them.
“We did ground searches, we did air searches, we had track dogs come in, we have had cadaver dogs come in for weeks. Weeks after trying, we decided to just go back and retract everything,” Dooly County Sheriff’s Investigator Randy Lamberth told reporters back in 2019. “Where this is, the residence is located across from a club which is known as Roxy’s Club, which has since closed, which was also a high drug area. It, at the time, had people up and down the street that were known drug dealers at the time.”
He added, “We had the drug dealers actually coming to us and saying, ‘Hey you know y’all interfering with our business. If we knew anything, we would tell you.'” The headquarters for the search of Shy’Kemmia was at the child’s home and those drug dealers even helped police in their quest to find her.
While residents in Unadilla were familiar with the ongoing search for Shy’Kemmia Pate, there wasn’t much interest from the media outside of the small town. In the decades that have followed, the eight-year-old’s loved ones, as well as other concerned citizens, have done their bests to keep this story alive, but still, Shy’Kemmia’s case is unknown by the masses.
“Human beings don’t disappear into thin air, you know what I’m saying?” said Shy’Kemmia’s uncle, Eddie Foster. “I’m sure somebody knows who it is, and I just wish they would come forward.”
Investigators have theorized that Shy’Kemmia knew the person responsible for her disappearance and was abducted. They believe the culprit is someone local to the area because a stranger, traveler, or unknown visitor would stick out like a sore thumb in Unadilla. There were reportedly searches of neighbors’ homes for miles, yet no evidence materialized to help aid in the investigation. Family members were also questioned repeatedly, but they were all ruled out as persons of interest.
“The mother and family, they have still have hope. They still believe that Shyshy is coming home. Shyshy will come home, but we hope sooner than later,” said Lamberth. However, when asked if he believes that Shy’Kemmia is still alive, he said no.
Adding to the concern about Shy’Kemmia’s disappearance was her health issues. The little girl lived with several illnesses including severe asthma, a kidney that was underdeveloped, and a weak bladder. It is reported that not long before she went missing, Shy’Kemmia Pate suffered an asthma attack that landed her in the hospital and she required at-home breathing treatments. Because of her bladder issues, Shy’Kemmia wore Pull-Up diapers, and she had a displaced kneecap that required her to wear a leg brace.
Still, Shy’Kemmia is described as an active child who was full of life. She liked to sing in the church choir, ride her bike, and perform sweet gestures for her mother. Her family believes that had she been a White child or had come from a family with financial resources, Sky’Kemmia’s case would have received more exposure.
Lamberth also revealed that there was a person of interest back in 1998, a man whose name has not been shared publicly. This person reportedly fit the FBI profile created of the person police believe is responsible for Shy’Kemmia’s disappearance. Lamberth speculated this unnamed man, in a “fit of anger,” abducted and murdered the little girl.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (case number 852942) would send a stack of Shy’Kemmia’s missing person flyer monthly so her family could continue to pass them out in their neighborhoods. Those mailings have ceased.
Several residents in Unadilla who were around when Shy’Kemmia went missing have either moved away or died. Leads may have gone cold but Shy’Kemmia’s loved ones have remained vigilant. She was just weeks away from her ninth birthday when she vanished and whether she has lived a life believing that she belonged to another family or is no longer alive, Shy’Kemmia’s loved ones continue to seek answers.
At the time of her disappearance, Shy’Kemmia Pate stood 4 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 59 pounds. She had black/dark brown hair (braided with extensions, shoulder-length, “twirled in the front” with gold beads) and brown eyes. Her ailments and illnesses are described above, and it should be noted she has a surgical scar along her waistline (from kidney surgery). Shy’Kemmia was last seen wearing a neon-green button-up Atlanta Braves jersey, dark blue/black jeans, and white K-Swiss tennis shoes. Her middle name is “Shy’Rezz” and she went by the nickname “ShyShy.” Shy’Kemmia would be 31-years-old at the time of this publication.
Anyone with information about this case is urged to contact the Dooly County Sheriff’s Office at (229) 645-0920, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation at (478) 987-6606 or (478) 987-4545, the GBI Tip Line at 1-800-597-TIPS (800)-597-8477, or their local authorities. The agency case number is 9809808. A $15,000 reward is being offered by the FBI, GBI and Governor’s Office for information leading to her safe return
Please share this story about Shy’Kemmia Pate to help bring awareness to this case. She is our sister and her life matters.
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