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Toni Jacobs has endured more than any mother should bear.
Just a few months after her 21-year-old daughter, Keeshae Jacobs, mysteriously vanished after going out with a friend, her son was murdered, leaving the grieving mother alone, heartbroken, and desperate for answers.
Toni — and authorities — don’t believe the incidents are connected, but her son’s death has caused more anguish for the Virginia mother.
She shared her emotional journey with “Dateline” correspondent Josh Mankiewicz in the latest “Dateline: Missing in America” podcast in the hopes of finding a new clue that could lead her to her daughter, who she is convinced is still alive and out there somewhere.
“Sometimes when somebody goes missing, it’s not clear whether that person was a victim of crime or not,” Mankiewicz told Oxygen.com. “In Keeshae’s case, it’s pretty clear she was. She’s been missing a long time and her mom has never stopped looking for her.”
The last time Toni saw her daughter was on September 26, 2016, as Keeshae was getting ready to go out for the night with a friend.
According to her mother, Keeshae had been “pretty upset” about an argument she had with her boyfriend that night but had calmed down by the time she left and planned to be back home early the next morning to make her brother pancakes.
“I was like, ‘Just be careful. Let me know you made it there safely,’” Toni recalled.
Toni got a text message from her daughter around 11 p.m., saying she had made it safely, but it would be the last time she ever heard from her daughter.
The next day, Keeshae didn’t come home like she had planned and Toni’s texts and voicemails to her daughter went unanswered, something her mother said was very unusual for the 21-year-old.
“I tried to explain to people that even though, like, Keeshae’s phone was broken one time, she would use somebody else phone to let me know she’s OK, or what’s going on, or she’ll log onto Facebook and message me on Facebook,” she said in the podcast.
Keeshae had been Toni’s “little sidekick” growing up, and even as an adult, she loved to spend time with her tight-knit family and was known for her frequent hugs.
“She was a very sweet and loving person,” Toni said.
The night she disappeared, Keeshae had been out with a female friend who Toni didn’t like.
“It was just something about the girl,” she told Mankiewicz. “I can’t even put my finger on it, but I didn’t think she was good friends to Keeshae.”
Toni reached out to Richmond Police, but officers told her there wasn’t much they could do since her daughter was an adult and might have gone off on her own.
The Richmond Police Department declined to comment to "Dateline."
“There’s this stereotype that these individuals are bringing it on themselves and no one else will care if they’re missing but their family members. And we have to change that stereotype or that narrative, that these are our missing daughters and sons, our mother and fathers, sisters and brothers, and they’re valuable members of our community,” said Natalie Wilson of the Black and Missing Foundation.
Toni started to investigate on her own, going to the house in Richmond’s Church Hill neighborhood where Keeshae and her friend had been dropped off that night. A man at the home, who identified himself as "Otis,” gave Toni conflicting stories about what time he had seen Keeshae that night and claimed to know nothing about her disappearance.
Toni immediately called police, who did a walk-through of the home, but there was no sign of her daughter.
While doing her own investigation, Toni found a woman who alleged that Otis had beat her, refused to let her leave, and forced her to commit sexual acts.
Toni thinks her daughter might have met a similar fate and believes she may be the victim of sex trafficking.
"Dateline" was unable to locate the friend Keeshae was with that night or "Otis" for comment.
Over the years, Richmond Police have stayed relatively quiet, other than to publicly announce in 2017 that they believed Keeshae had been a victim of “foul play.”
“We feel and have felt all along that there are individuals out there that know a lot more than what they’re saying,” lead detective Clarence Key III told WTVR in 2021, describing her disappearance as “totally out of character for her.”
Just months after she disappeared, Toni’s only other child, her son Deavon, was shot to death at a Motel 6 in Richmond after a struggle. His killer was convicted and is serving time behind bars.
Nearly six years later, without either of her children at home, Toni is desperate for answers about what happened to Keeshae.
“I don’t believe I fully mourned my son’s death because I still have to fight for Keeshae,” she said. “So, the fact that she’s still out there, that pushes me. It pushes me, and I have to do what the mother has to do and I have to fight for my daughter because there’s apparently no one else [that] is going to fight for her like me.”
Anyone with information about Keeshae’s disappearance is urged to call the Richmond Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit at 804-646-0729.
For more on this case and others like it, tune into the podcast “Dateline: Missing In America,” which is available for free on Apple Podcasts, Amazon, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and TuneIn. New episodes drop weekly on Tuesdays.