Six months later, still no sign of Brittanee Drexel

Simply put, this might be one of the worst months of Chad Drexel's life.

He celebrated his missing daughter's 18th birthday on Oct. 7. A week later, he traveled to South Carolina to join a two-day search, hoping to find new clues about her whereabouts, but came back home to Rochester more dejected.
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And today marks exactly six months since his daughter, Brittanee Drexel, was last seen.

"This is all very stomach-turning, draining, and I feel sick all the time," said Chad Drexel. "It's just a horrifying thought to search through the very thick woods, scared of what you might find. But I've got to keep doing whatever I can to find my little girl."

Brittanee, a Gates Chili High School student, went missing April 25 after taking a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach with several acquaintances.

Last weekend, the Myrtle Beach Police Department searched the Georgetown County area, about 35 miles south of Myrtle Beach, for the third time. That was where her cell phone last gave off a signal. Police had planned this search since May, aiming to take advantage of better conditions, including cooler temperatures and fewer insects. The search included 150 volunteers, 50 law enforcement officers, 12 cadaver dog teams and horses searching water and land. However, they found nothing.

"We at least eliminated some areas that were hard to search in May because it was so hot and that affected the volunteers and the dogs' ability to track a scent," said Vincent Dorio, a Myrtle Beach police detective. "We haven't ruled out looking anywhere again because we could have always missed something."

Dorio, who said the case is still considered active, expects another search to occur before the end of the year.

The Drexel family's anguish began in the spring when Brittanee's mother, Dawn Drexel, found out that instead of her daughter staying at a Rochester's friend home during spring break, she had gone to Myrtle Beach.

On April 25, Brittanee had texted her boyfriend, John Grieco, and then left the Bluewater Resort on Ocean Boulevard to go for a walk on the beach.

She never returned.

A few days later, the Drexel family drove 14 hours to South Carolina to search for Brittanee. They found hope in tips that a person matching her description had been seen on a bus and at a convenience store. But both were false leads.

Now six months and several searches later, doubt sometimes creeps into the family, and they wonder whether they will ever find their Britt. Chad Drexel said he still cries occasionally thinking about the situation but refuses to think that all is lost.

On his Facebook page, his profile picture is a photograph of Brittanee with the words, "We miss you so much."

"We have a lot of family support and that helps sometimes," said Dawn Drexel. "But some days that is not enough because we still have a lot of pain. We're hoping to find her soon because six months is a long time."

New York received more than 20,000 reports of children missing last year, according to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services. Nearly all of the missing cases — about 92.3 percent — were suspected runaways. About 31 percent of the cases were resolved by the child coming home. By the end of last year, more than 2,000 cases remained unresolved.

Alicia Grieco of Greece, the mother of John, has seen her son grow stronger in the midst of his own heartache. He also drove to South Carolina last weekend to join the search party.

Grieco said John spends most of his free time on the computer trying to find the latest information or making phone calls to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, refusing to give up hope that his girlfriend will be found alive. There are days when family and friends become frustrated because they wish that police could give them more information, that any witnesses would come forth and that more leads would come out.

John decided to go back to Monroe Community College and change his major from biology to criminal justice.

"He tells me, 'Mom, when I get an A in class, that makes me feel like I am one step closer to finding Brittanee.' He feels like he will find her one day, and we believe she is not dead, but she is out there," said Alicia Grieco.

ELAMOTHE@DemocratandChronicle.com

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