Nearly three decades after Sabrina Long disappeared, news of an arrest in the case jolted her mother and sister.
Long, a graduate of Southwest High School in Macon, vanished without a trace at age 19 in August of 1991.
The GBI now says the cold case trail has led its agents to a former schoolmate of hers, Melinda Pogue McSwain.
Investigators tipped off Sabrina’s mother, Sue Corley, and younger sister, Melissa Long, shortly after McSwain was arrested Oct. 18 while visiting the Mercer University campus.
“When they told us it was a woman,” Corley, 70, said Wednesday, “she and I both were like, ‘What?’”
The mother and daughter’s lips were sealed, though, until word of the arrest hit the news the next day.
“We haven’t gone through this for 27 years to mess anything up now,” Corley said.
For nearly three decades, they could only imagine what happened to Sabrina, a talkative brunette who worked at The Bibb Company.
“The constant wondering. ... You never stop thinking about it,” Sabrina’s sister, Melissa, who is 45, said the other day. “You never stop mourning it.”
Melissa Long, who works at a bank in Dublin, said her emotions about the McSwain arrest and what it may mean run the gamut: “I’m mad. I’m pissed. I’m scared. I’m hurt.”
The shocking development breathes new energy into their quest to find answers to questions that have dogged their lives.
Neither Corley nor Melissa Long remember McSwain, who was a year behind Sabrina at Southwest High in the late 1980s.
“I don’t know who she is or how she relates to my sister,” Long said.
McSwain once lived on Bloomfield Drive in Macon and, according to online records, has also lived in Kentucky and in Pierce County east of Douglas in south Georgia.
Most recently McSwain was living around the town of Broxton in Coffee County, about 90 miles southeast of Macon. Other than a DUI conviction in Lamar County in the early 1990s, she has had no other known brushes with the law.
On Twitter accounts, one of which dates back to 2011 and appears to belong to her, McSwain seems more than fond of the “Twilight” movies and actor Robert Pattinson, who plays the lead vampire.
The Twitter feeds, in fact, are almost entirely devoted to “Twilight” posts.
A bio on one of the accounts, which follows hundreds of Robert Pattinson accounts, declares: “I am sooo in love with robert pattinson i am robobbessed with him my dream is to meet him.”
‘I wanted to find my child’
Corley last talked to her daughter shortly after midnight when Sabrina phoned in the wee hours of Oct. 14, 1991. Corley had been asleep when Sabrina called. Sabrina at the time, having graduated from high school a year or so earlier, was living with her stepfather on Ashland Drive off Rocky Creek Road in southwest Macon.
On the phone, Sabrina said she was going to visit a friend who lived nearby. The friend later said Sabrina had done no such thing.
Authorities have since wondered if Sabrina may have been going elsewhere that night, somewhere she maybe wasn’t comfortable going. And out of caution, investigators guess, she may have called her mom to let her mom at least be aware she was going out. But the ambiguity has only raised more questions.
Who might she have gone out with?
Where did they go?
A day or so later, upon learning that Sabrina had left her makeup behind at her stepdad’s place and failed to pick up her paycheck from work, her mother feared the worst.
“I’ve kind of felt this way from maybe three weeks after she went missing, that we weren’t going to find her alive,” Corley said.
She remembers breaking down in tears after pulling up at a Macon convenience store and seeing her daughter’s “Missing” poster.
Her mind raced with the possibilities and her own list of suspects.
“It was like being caught up inside of a big tornado and everything in my mind was just spinning and spinning,” Corley said. “I couldn’t keep up with what’s going on.”
Corley has shared with investigators intimate details of a somewhat rocky relationship with Sabrina around the time her daughter disappeared.
“It feels like I have met my maker and all my good, bad and ugly and real ugly has just been exposed to people that I would not normally have, but I had to tell the truth when asked because no matter what it made me look like,” Corley said, “I wanted to find my child.”
A couple of years ago, GBI agent Madison Holland put fresh eyes on the case and uncovered evidence leading to McSwain, although the investigation continues.
“He has put tooth, nail, behind and everything else to this,” Corley said. “I feel like he’s been our angel.”
Corley thought she’d cry herself to sleep the night she learned of the arrest but didn’t.
“I feel good and I feel happy because now we have that something that is giving us hope again,” she said.
She said she still cries in silence.
“I miss my child still to this day,” she added, “and I will miss her until the day I die.”
In many ways, Corley feels her younger daughter, Melissa, is having a more difficult time coping with the recent developments.
Corley said Melissa has a “lot of anger right now” after looking at photographs on social media of McSwain appearing to live a happy middle-aged life.
Those images, Corley went on, left Melissa “feeling robbed” of a life that should have included her big sister.
Melissa Long said waves of “wondering where and what and who” wash over her.
“You can’t be prepared for that,” she said.
As they brace for what lies ahead, the mother and daughter crave details from investigators.
“They’ve even told us we may never have all the answers,” Corley said, adding that she has told them, “I want all you can find.”
She is not sure she will be able to forgive whoever stole away her daughter.
Corley hopes McSwain, a mother herself, can put herself in Corley’s shoes and cooperate with investigators.
“I’m hoping that she tells the truth about what happened and who all was involved,” Corley said.
She said if McSwain is convicted, she’d like to see her sentenced to at least 27 years in prison to compensate for the time Sabrina’s family has suffered.
“If it takes giving her a plea, a deal, I’ll settle for five or 10 years,” Corley said. “She helped take a lot away from us.”