Looking for Angela
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on September 4, 2012 1:46 PM
Delois Sherard holds a portrait of her daughter, Angela Toler, who had been missing for 20 years. She was recently notified that her daughter died in Richmond, Va.
For more than 20 years, since the day her 21-year-old daughter Angela Toler disappeared, Delois Sherard has waited, wondered and worried.
She cried until she had no more tears.
She asked God why as she searched for Angela -- and, later, she prayed for help with coming to terms with her daughter's disappearance.
And she prayed to know more about the turn of life that took Angela from her -- and the story behind that fateful day two decades ago.
And, most importantly, she hoped to find Angela.
And just a few weeks ago, her wish came true -- even if the result was not what the 63-year-old had hoped.
She found out that Angela died nearly 20 years ago in Richmond, Va., her body found with no identification along a railroad track and buried in a Virginia cemetery. DNA taken at the time would later lead authorities to identify the young woman decades later.
Although the cremated remains are still in Virginia, Haskins Funeral Home provided a memorial service for family and friends so they could put closure to a mystery they have endured for two decades.
Mrs. Sherard recalls the day she said goodbye to Angela -- not knowing it would be the last time she would see her child alive.
"She came by my job and said, 'Mother, I'm fixing to move to Virginia with a friend,'" Mrs. Sherard said. "I hugged her and told her to call me when she got there. She'd always call me when she was going somewhere to let me know she was OK."
But the call never came -- until about a month later.
"I was at work and the phone rang," Mrs. Sherard said. "The supervisor said it was Angela trying to contact me. But they never let me go to the phone. Angela called three times, and the last time, the supervisor said if she called one more time, he'd let me go to the phone. But she didn't ever call again."
Her maternal intuition kicked in, and Mrs. Sherard knew something was wrong with Angela and that's why she called three times that night.
"I have even thought that Angela might be alive today if they had let me take one of those calls," she said.
"Time passed on by and I was wondering why she hadn't called. But I had no way to get in contact with her. She didn't tell me where in Virginia she was going."
Mrs. Sherard thought maybe Angela would call some of her friends back in Princeton, where she lived with her mother. But those calls never came either.
"I tried calling the boy she said she was going to Virginia with because he came back here," Mrs. Sherard said. "But his mother kept saying he wasn't there at the time."
Mrs. Sherard turned to the police, but they were unable to help. She even tried calling the police in Virginia, but nothing turned up.
"We did all we could do, but we had no leads as to where to look for Angela," Mrs. Sherard said. "If Angela had told me what city she was moving to in Virginia, even though I had a job here, I would have gotten somebody to go with me to Virginia, and we would have scoured the state. I would have stayed there until somebody would have told me something. If she was there, I would have found her."
Angela's portrait hangs over an aquarium at Mrs. Sherard's home.
"You see that big smile on her face?" she asks. "Angela was like that all the time. She was one who never knew a stranger. She was full of joy. She was really a great person. She was a friendly person. With that kind of personality, it's especially hard for me to understand why someone would want to hurt her."
Angela graduated from Princeton High School, where she was a good student, her mother said.
Although Angela worked at a fast food restaurant after graduation, her big dream was to be a model, Mrs. Sherard said. "I think maybe that's why she went to a bigger city in Virginia -- to become a model."
The holidays were the hardest times for Mrs. Sherard.
"That's when I missed Angela the most," she said.
But she held on to her memories of her daughter.
"We were just like glue, Angela and me," Mrs. Sherard said. "There wasn't nothing in this world that would have come between us. I don't care how long she stayed, she would have called me to let me know she was OK."
About three years after Angela disappeared, Mrs. Sherard knew in her heart that her daughter was dead. And through a higher power, she finally came to peace with it.
"All those years of trying to find her, I prayed and asked the Lord to heal my body and my mind because that was enough to make me crazy," she said. "I had my times, you can believe that.
"The roughest times were when I was alone. Something could come on the TV about missing children or about the police finding a body and sometimes I would just pray and cry."
And that's what got her through the tough times.
"Those 20 years were a long time," she said. "I could have gone crazy. I could have committed suicide. And if I hadn't held onto the Lord, I probably would have. I cried, I jumped and hollered, I did it all, but through it all, I still held on to the Lord."
And not only did it get Mrs. Sherard through the ordeal of Angela being missing, but it also got her through the deaths of her oldest daughter, Sharon, from cancer and her youngest son, Wilbert, from heart failure -- just a year apart. The deaths came about eight years into Angela's disappearance.
After her husband's death before Angela's disappearance, Mrs. Sherard raised her five children by herself. Two, Cora and Edward, are still living.
Mrs. Sherard credits her first cousin with finding Angela's remains.
"She was working in Africa for a long time after Angela disappeared," Mrs. Sherard said. "When she came back to Raleigh, she was working in the missing person's bureau and she began to help us try and find Angela."
Her cousin took DNA swabs from Mrs. Sherard and Cora and sent them to Virginia, where a match was found a year later.
"It was a relief," Mrs. Sherard said. "My prayers were answered. I wanted to know where she was. It hurts. That was my child. It breaks my heart to know that Angela may have died a horrible death."
The family is in the process of trying to bring Angela's remains back to Princeton, where her mother wants her buried next to her sister and brother.
"I still have questions," Mrs. Sherard said. "The copy of her death certificate said her clothing was all wet when they found her by the railroad tracks. And it said she was dressed in men's clothes. She had frozen to death. I want to know what she was doing all wet and wearing men's clothes.
"She didn't walk out there and lay down and freeze to death. No, I believe somebody put her body there. Somebody knows what happened to my daughter. I've got to find out what really happened to her."
Although Mrs. Sherard would love to get back all the time she missed with Angela, it's all the good memories of a life cut short that keep her going day after day.
"Angela loved children and was always helping with her older sister's children," Mrs. Sherard said. "I had hoped that after high school, she'd go on to college and become a teacher or day care worker.
"I believe there are children whose lives she would have touched and maybe made a positive impact on who won't have that special touch now because Angela died so young."
It took Mrs. Sherard a long time before she could even talk about Angela because it hurt her too much to even say her daughter's name.
"But now I can talk about her," she said. "And I can also talk about all three of my children who have died."