Into the Breeze: The Disappearance of Tiffany Daniels
Tiffany Daniels, 25, mysteriously vanished on August 12, 2013, from Pensacola, Florida. She was last seen leaving Pensacola State College where she worked as a theater technician.
Pensacola is the westernmost city on the Florida Panhandle in Escambia County. From the pristine beaches and bay area attractions to day trips and nightlife, Pensacola is a popular tourist destination.
On August 11, Tiffany started her day with a goodbye breakfast with her boyfriend, who had just been accepted into the robotics program at the University of Texas in Austin. Though he had encouraged her to come with him, she had objected. She said she wanted to continue the relationship and was making plans to visit him in Austin, but she expressed she wasn’t ready to leave Pensacola yet.
Her roommate, Gary Nichols, recalls that Tiffany was a little depressed after the breakfast, but it was mitigated with enthusiasm for a later visit to Austin, a place her friends thought she would easily adjust to if she did decide to move there.
Gary Nichols, 54, was the father of one of Tiffany’s friends who was separating from his wife and wanted to live closer to his job. Tiffany had placed an ad on Craigslist looking for a roommate, and Nichols thought it would help both and he agreed to rent the room. Though Tiffany’s parents were not particularly happy with her sharing her place with a man twice her age, they were happy she was with someone safe. They both shared similar interests such as bicycling and eating healthy and got along great, according to Gary.
The theater department had Tiffany scheduled to start working on set for an upcoming musical comedy called Spamalot. That evening, Tiffany and Gary decided to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the film on which the musical she was working on was based. They both went to their bedrooms after the movie because they were both scheduled to work early the following morning.
Between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m., Gary heard the front door open and close several times and peeked out but did not see Tiffany. Assuming Tiffany had just gone to work early, Gary went back to sleep.
On August 12, Tiffany went to work at the beginning of her shift and began painting the sets. Later, she asked her supervisor if she could leave work early and take off a couple of days following, not citing a reason, but just saying she had a couple of things to do. The supervisor approved the time off and she clocked out at 4:43 p.m. as she left the theater.
She returned home briefly after she left work. Her roommate was home but was distracted on the phone with his out-of-state girlfriend, and says he did not see her come in.
That night, Gary became concerned and tried to call Tiffany when she had not returned by 10:00 p.m. Again, he tried to call her the following morning when she had not returned. That evening, he returned the house and found the electricity had been shut off. He assumed Tiffany had forgotten to pay the bill so he called his daughter Noel and asked her if she would contact Tiffany’s mother, Cindy Daniels.
Cindy and Noel began to contact every friend of Tiffany’s they could think of. None had seen her. By the end of the week, when Tiffany had not yet shown back up, they decided to call the police.
First, Cindy went to Escambia County Sheriff’s Office where they referred her to the Pensacola Police Department inside the jurisdiction of where Tiffany lives. Detective Daniel Harnett met Cindy at Tiffany’s home and searched it. He found no signs of foul play. Her family thought maybe she went camping but the police found her tent inside her room.
Hartnett investigated both Tiffany’s boyfriend and Gary Daniels and found they were not deceptive.
“As law enforcement, we are going to investigate missing person cases as if they are a crime,” said Detective Harnett. “The way we work this case it’s as if it’s a worst-case and we hope for the best.”
Theories regarding Tiffany’s disappearance include foul play to accidental drowning. However, based on an anonymous tip and several possible sightings, the family believes she may have been a victim of human trafficking and may still be alive.
Tiffany's Car Is Found Abandoned
The case had been on the local news and family and friends distributed and posted fliers throughout Pensacola.
On August 20, a biker, who was a friend of the Daniels family, recognized Tiffany’s silver Toyota 4 Runner during her morning ride. It was parked at Park West in Pensacola Beach, near Fort Pickens, which is at the western end of Santa Rosa Island.
Tiffany had often hiked the sweeping dunes of Gulf Islands National Seashore, even though her mother warned her not to go hiking alone.
Inside her unlocked vehicle, police found her bicycle, purse, cell phone, wallet, clothing, paintings, a jar of peanut butter and a jug of water. Police impounded the vehicle and towed it to the police garage for further examination and found two fingerprints, one on the door handle and the other on the steering wheel. These prints could not be matched to Tiffany.
A resident at a nearby condo said the vehicle had not been parked there until two days earlier, meaning it had parked there on August 18, six days after Tiffany’s disappearance. This lead could not be confirmed but two other residents told investigators they had seen a man getting out of the car earlier in the day on August 20.
To try to determine a timeline of when the car was driven there, Detective Harnett examined security footage from the toll booths at the Bob Sikes Bridge, the only road connecting Pensacola and the island. The footage showed Tiffany’s car passed through at 7:51 p.m. on August 12, the evening she vanished. However, it could not be determined if she was the one driving the vehicle.
Police also found sand on the bicycle tires, suggesting Tiffany may have gone for a bike ride that evening as the Perseid Meteor Shower was happening at the time.
Hoping someone saw something, family and friends canvassed the area and surrounding residential complexes, but law enforcement received no new leads. KlaasKids, a volunteer organization organized a search party and conducted a search of much of the island with canines finding some clothing and jewelry, but none was determined to be Tiffany’s.
Rodney and Cindy Daniels, Tiffany’s parents, set up a Facebook Page “Help Find Tiffany” that has over 21,000 Likes. The site has generated numerous leads over the years and has been a source of constant support for her parents.
One such sighting occurred in 2014, leading Tiffany’s family to Louisiana and down the winding road of human trafficking.
A woman who worked at a restaurant as a waitress in Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans, reported she had seen a woman that matched Tiffany’s description come inside the restaurant. She entered with two women who were possibly Latina, one older than the other. Each was nicely dressed. The waitress told investigators, the younger women had both acted oddly and would not look her in the eye, while the older woman did all the talking. Despite the warm weather, both young women had been wearing long-sleeved shirts, with the cuffs of the shirts pulled over their hands. When the waitress told the women that the Caucasian woman looked very similar to the missing woman that had been on the news, the older Latino asked for "to go" bags and the three left.
When investigators talked to the waitress, she was adamant that the Caucasian woman looked just like Tiffany. Sadly, the surveillance from that day had been recorded over so the sighting could not be confirmed.
For two reasons, Tiffany’s family believe it was her that day. First, Tiffany would always put her sleeves over her hands when she was cold. Second, the waitress said she asked whether one of the soups on the menu used chicken or fish broth. Cindy recalled a time she was at a restaurant with Tiffany and she asked the same question, as Tiffany was pescatarian and avoided chicken products.
This sighting prompted Tiffany’s parents to begin researching the horrors of human trafficking. They found traffickers prefer women in their late teens and fear Tiffany’s very trusting nature would have allowed her to fall for whatever ploy traffickers would have used to lure her. In addition, Interstate 10 which is a major trafficking corridor runs from Pensacola through Louisiana.
Though Detective Harnett has found no evidence to substantiate this theory, he is not entirely ruling it out either.
Another promising lead came in during 2018 and steered Rodney and Cindy into the world of the homeless. A mother and daughter in California contacted them and claimed they had watched an episode of Investigation Discovery and saw a woman who looked like Cindy living within a homeless community in California.
“I was in the area and assisted them with some of the searchings and the person that they found was not Tiffany because she didn’t have the tattoos on her feet,” said Rodney. “However, it led me to have a firsthand look at homeless people and how they attempt to survive, and it really grabbed us by the heart. It absolutely did.”
Though the family has not yet received the lead they need to find Tiffany, the Daniels did disclose that another witness had come forward regarding the day Tiffany vanished. They said they saw a man in his thirties wearing red shorts and no shirt opening the tailgate of Tiffany’s truck. A witness sighting that corroborated the other two witnesses that came forward early in the case. The man said he remembered this incident because the car had been parked facing oncoming traffic, in an area that was strictly reserved for wildlife.
Tiffany was born March 11, 1988, in Dallas, Texas. Her parents, Cindy and Rodney, moved to Pensacola early in Tiffany's life. She grew up in Pensacola with her two sisters.
Tiffany went to high school and took many extracurricular classes, and she received multiple scholarship offers. Tiffany attended both Pensacola State College and the University of West Florida.
Tiffany became an exceptional artist and a skilled painter. She loved to dance and often held dance parties at her home. According to friends of Tiffany’s friends, she is fun-loving and free-spirited and would light up a room when she walked in. Always wanting to adventure, Tiffany was drawn to picturesque places and people who shared her love for art.
“Everybody loved Tiffany. Tiffany is a light and that the best way I can describe her,” Said her sister Candice. “When you are around her you just feel light, everything gets brighter, more colorful, more beautiful.”
When she was not working Tiffany could be found biking, surfing, hiking or camping. Tiffany’s father described his daughter as a “butterfly girl” saying, “She would be talking or doing something and if a butterfly would come by, she would take off and follow it.”
Tiffany’s spontaneous nature would often lead to long bike rides or hiking just to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Often a loner, Tiffany loved to commune with nature, it was her way.
Tiffany is an adventurous young woman who seemed to be achieving her dreams, but there was a dark side. Tiffany had financial troubles.
In July 2013, her parents took notice. In the previous months, friends and roommates that Tiffany had found on Craigslist were moving in and out. Some had taken advantage of Tiffany’s kind nature and had not paid their shares of living expenses. “Most of the time she was too nice,” Cindy said. “Most of the time she did want to ask for the rent, utilities when they were due. So, we found out she was paying for things upfront and later trying to collect money from the roommates later.” When she went missing, Tiffany was approximately two months behind on her utility bill.
Tiffany would often find herself broke which led to Gary, who was financially stable, moving in.
But things had changed before Tiffany’s disappearance; she was not her bubbly self and she had drifted away from friends. Police wondered if she might have left on her own or committed suicide because life had just become too much. However, her friends and family said suicide was not even a possibility that Tiffany would consider.
Tiffany’s cell phone had been out of minutes for days prior to her disappearance, making her activities hard for police to track.
Police continue to search for Tiffany, and while the Daniels also continue to search for their daughter, they have also found themselves consumed with wanting to help others. When asked what’s next? “We do continue to work as advocates for families,” said Rodney. “When a search is going on, we stay with the family while the teams are out searching.”
With a lifelong career in fire and emergency services, Rodney now speaks to law enforcement nationwide, educating them on the signs of human trafficking.
As so many families of missing loved ones find themselves, they become experts in the field of missing persons. The Daniels have found that working with other families of missing children and adults gives them the strength to continue searching for their own child. To not only bring her home but to ward off the feeling of desperation and accompanying depression that can be all-consuming.
Tiffany’s parents face the ambiguity with courage and determination and have dedicated their lives to bring their Tiffany home no matter what the ending. “Every family with a missing person’s case needs closure because you fall into that gray area and you don’t know which is worse,” said Cindy.
It is Cindy and Rodney’s hope that keeps them going while daily they wait for some word. “Until someone brings me a body or a piece of her body, I’m never going to give up that she’s alive and that she will come and show up at our door,” said Rodney.
Anyone with information about the disappearance of Tiffany Daniels, please call the Pensacola Police Department at 850-435-1900.
Questions & Answers
© 2020 Kym L Pasqualini