On Friday (June 7), 97 days after the disappearance of Terrilynn Monette, Slidell police officer Mark Michaud and state Rep. Austin Badon met at the lawmaker’s home in eastern New Orleans, fired up a computer and tried to identify the various routes the West Bank elementary school teacher might have taken to get home the morning she vanished in the vicinity of City Park.
On the morning of Day 98, Michaud, the leader of the Slidell Police Department’s dive team, went to Bayou St. John on his 17-foot boat during his free time. Scanning the waters with a portable sonar device, he found a submerged car close to a bridge at the corner of Harrison Avenue and Wisner Boulevard.
It seemed that the vehicle was pointed the way Monette, 26, would probably have been going on March 2 after she drove away from Parlay’s bar in the 800 block of Harrison Avenue about 5 a.m. — the last time anyone saw her.
Michaud, 49, grabbed his gear, dove in and saw a black Honda Accord – the same make and model as Monette’s car. He then studied the license plate. It read, “WUN 494.”
It was Monette’s car, and there was a badly decomposed body in the driver’s seat — presumably that of the missing teacher.
“It’s a really sad moment,” said Badon, who had been spearheading search efforts for Monette in recent weeks. “There’s some sense of closure, and I’m glad, though it wasn’t the outcome I had hoped for.”
That sense of closure had not yet come on Saturday for Monette’s mother. “I’m never going to see my baby again,” Toni Enclade said. “I had so much hope she was going to be found alive. So many people thought she would be found alive. So many of us had faith. I just kept hoping.”
Enclade, whose daughter moved to New Orleans from California in 2011, then broke into tears. After a few moments of silence, she said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever feel a sense of closure. My baby is gone.”
The night she went missing, Monette had been drinking, and she told friends who were at the bar with her that she planned to sleep in her car for a while before driving to her apartment complex in the area of Robert E. Lee Boulevard and Paris Avenue.
Monette, a teacher at Woodland West Elementary School in Harvey, exited a bank parking lot next door to Parlay’s at about 5 a.m. and headed toward Marconi Drive.
Police had thought that Monette turned left, or northbound, at Marconi, on the edge of City Park, based on red-light camera footage investigators reviewed. But her car was found farther east, in waters just past the corner of Harrison and Wisner, suggesting she likely kept going straight instead, driving through City Park before — for reasons still unknown — she ended up in in Bayou St. John.
“Now that Ms. Monette’s car has been found, we begin the second phase of this investigation,” New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas said in a statement. “Both homicide detectives and our fatality unit were on the scene today, so that they can pick up where (other) officers have left off and start finding out exactly how and why the car ended up where it did.”
An autopsy is scheduled for Monday June 10th. Monette’s friends and family are perplexed over what took so long to recover her car because Bayou St. John was searched extensively during prior months.