‘There’s always going to be a hole in my heart;’ Erica Baker’s Disappearance: 25 years later

Today marks 25 years since a Kettering girl disappeared while walking her dog.

News Center 7 has been following the case of Erica Baker’s disappearance since the beginning. She was 9 years old.

“There’s always going to be a huge hole in my heart that can never be replaced,” said Erica’s dad, Greg Baker.

For 25 years, he has had to live without his daughter.

“I’m not going to know anything past 9 years old,” Greg said.

Erica’s mother, Misty doesn’t either. She said her daughter’s disappearance dramatically changed her.

“When my daughter went missing, I ended up hating everyone. I didn’t treat them very well,” Misty said. “I’m kind of stuck, stuck in a terror minefield. I would like some answers.”

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The Bakers haven’t talked in 20 years. But share three other children – all boys older than Erica.

Since February 7, 1999 – the entire family has been haunted by the phone call they made to Kettering Police.

Det. Bob Green said, “They had a missing child and to meet out at the recreation center.”

Green was the first detective to be assigned to Erica’s case. “From that point on we worked 16 hours days, 7 days a week for quite some time,” Green said.

They never stopped looking for Erica. Detectives tied Christian Gabriel to Erica’s disappearance. He admitted to being high and hitting Erica with a van and then burying her somewhere.

“As far as actually knowing she was struck by this van, Gabriel told me that in prison,” Green said.

He continued by saying that no trace evidence was discovered.

In 2005, Gabriel was convicted of gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence. He served six years in prison. To this day, Gabriel claims he doesn’t remember where Erica is buried, but no one believes him.

“He knows where she’s at. You don’t just hit a little girl with a van and bury her somewhere and forget where that location is,” Green said.

Misty Baker was asked if she believed Gabriel. She replied, “Oh hell no. Hell no. I mean no. I don’t believe him for one bit,”

For years, News Center 7 has reported on searches for Erica’s body. Just last month, a tip led Kettering Police and Texas Equusearch Midwest back to an area near Huffman Dam.

Those who searched the area did not find Erica.

Sgt. Vincent Mason said, “I realized this was probably going to be the biggest case I’d ever be involved in.”

The emotions surrounding a search is something that Mason understands.

“In the 12 years I had the case, I dug over 1000 holes in different places. Tore the basement out of a house in Dayton,” Mason said. “It bothers you; you know? I had a little girl. If you don’t get emotionally involved, you’re not doing your job in my book.”

Det. Amy Pedro is now in charge of Erica Baker’s case. She was a teenager when Erica went missing.

“I was 15. I was in high school. I remember that day vividly because my dad was a police officer for the city of Kettering,” Pedro said.

She calls the case hot. And said searchers will return to the Huffman Dam area.

“We are not done with that location. We plan to stay there as long as we deem necessary,” Pedro said. “There’s always been an interest in that area.”

News Center 7′s Gabrielle Enright wanted to talk to Christian Gabriel. She found an address for him in Oregon. Police in Roseburg, Oregon, arrested him last August for assault.

In October, he was cited for possession of methamphetamine.

Enright said she called four phone numbers tied to his information and left one voice message.

Erica’s parents said they’ve never talked to Gabriel, but they are ready now.

“The only thing I would tell him is it’s been 25 years,” Greg Baker said. “All he really has to do is like everyone else, leave an anonymous tip and say tell us exactly where he put her.”

“Might as well give up. Karam is going to get you,” Misty Baker said.

Finding Erica’s body is the only thing her parents say will give them closure. “I have to know that before I can move on. I’m kind of stuck,” Misty Baker said.

“Being able to get her put to rest. That is closure,” Greg Baker said.

Putting Erica to rest means putting her at David’s Cemetery in Kettering, where there’s a gravesite and a headstone with Erica’s name on it.

Each year, detectives and Erica’s family receive hundreds of tips about where she might be. They’re hoping one will eventually lead them to her.

If you have any information about Erica’s disappearance, call Kettering Police and Det. Pedro at 937-296-2555.