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Tonya Whipp: Sisters say she wouldn’t just walk away

  • Whipp's family last spoke to her on May 26 and she posted online on June 1
  • Whipp's boyfriend said when he returned home from work, she was gone
  • Her sisters say Whipp wouldn't leave her beloved dog behind

(NewsNation) — Despite multiple search efforts, it’s been two months since Tonya Whipp’s family has heard from her and her loved ones urgently want to know what happened.

The last time Robin Klotzbier spoke with her youngest sister was on May 26.

“I miss her terribly and I just wish she would walk through my door,” she said.

The last time anyone heard from Whipp was in a Facebook post on June 1.

“We’re just trying to keep it together,” said Donna Martin, another of Whipp’s three sisters. “It’s definitely not like her, and that’s what makes it scarier.” 

Jenny Shelton, the third of Whipp’s sisters, said the family is worried and stressed, just trying to figure out why Whipp would disappear.

Over the past several weeks, hundreds of volunteers in the Auburndale, Florida, community have joined the family, searching roughly a dozen locations around Whipp’s house and wooded areas nearby. Searchers have worked on foot and used trucks, ATVs and drones, all seeking clues to Whipp’s current location.

Nico Toscani, co-founder of We Are the Essentials, a group of former law enforcement and military service members who help find those who have gone missing, said while volunteers found some items, none appeared to belong to Whipp.

“They found all kinds of articles of clothing and stuff like that. Unfortunately, none of it matched the clothing that we know Tonya was last wearing,” he said.

Whipp lived with her boyfriend, Russell Carroll, who told police when he came home from work one day in late May, Whipp was gone. Left behind were Whipp’s recently paid-off car, her purse, her cell phone and her beloved dog Baby.

Carroll never reported Whipp missing and declined to join any of the searches. He told the family Whipp wanted space. But they say that doesn’t add up.

“I just don’t believe she walked away. Not from everything. Not her dogs. Not her car. Not her family. I just don’t,” Klotzbier said.

At 38, Whipp has never married and her relationship with Carroll is complicated. When they met in 2013, he had already spent time behind bars for the stabbing and attempted murder of his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend ten years earlier.

Then in 2015, Carroll went back to prison after being caught with narcotics during a traffic stop. He was released several months ago, but he and Whipp stayed in touch while he was incarcerated.

Toscani took on Whipp’s case about a month after she disappeared.

“We read a lot of the letters that were in her property between her boyfriend and her. They were kind of sort of trying to help each other. Like he would say ‘please stay clean. I love you so much.’ She would write back the same, ‘this is going to be a new start. Don’t worry about what happened in your past, this is us now,'” he said.

Toscani said in the course of his investigation, he’s found information suggesting that in recent months, Whipp may have been using methamphetamines.  But Tonya’s family said everyone they’ve talked to has assured them she has stayed clean for the past five years. 

“She did drugs in the past and she got her life back on track. She’s been clean for almost five years now,” Klotzbier said. “She seemed happy. She didn’t seem like anything was wrong.” 

Toscani said with the recent increase in drug potency, his organization has found many cases where people are deceased due to drug involvement.

“The cases that are involving these new drugs, we’re not finding those folks alive,” he said.

So far, the police have not named any persons of interest in the case. In a statement, Auburndale Police told NewsNation they’ve “followed up on numerous leads in attempts to locate Whipp, but all have been unsuccessful.” 

Just last week, the police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement searched a home and dug out a yard on Rose Street in Auburndale.  Homeowner Jake Rudy said Whipp had lived there about ten years ago and had stopped by the house for about 45 minutes on June 6.  But he said he is not involved in her disappearance and doesn’t know where she is. 

“She was concerned she might have made a mistake coming back down here. She was doing so good where she was at. there’s nothing in my house that involves Tonya. There’s nothing in my house that’s illegal right now,” he told WFLA.

Police said any evidence recovered during the search will be sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab.  Toscani said his team is working as well, doing anything they can to help Whipp’s loved ones get answers.

Meanwhile, family and friends grasp for hope in any way they can. They held a prayer vigil for Tonya this week. They Said the hardest part is not knowing what’s happened to her, and worrying that she needs them to help her. 

“That’s one thing she always kept in contact with me because she knew I worried. So I believe if she were really out there and she could get to a phone, she would have called me,” Klotzbier said.” 


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