Was Kelly Nolan kidnapped? Is she lost, hurt, or worse? Or did she just walk away and not look back?
All anyone knows for sure is the 22-year-old college student has been missing for a week and a half, and Madison detectives have been unable to pick up her trail.
“Under most circumstances, I’d be less hopeful, but if you knew Kelly, she’s just a really tough girl. That girl, I’m sure she’s out there. I’m sure she can be found,” said Nolan’s co-worker, Megan Janeway.
Nolan, of Waunakee, a Madison suburb, is a senior speech major at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She rented an apartment in downtown Madison this summer and was about to return to work with Janeway at a dinner club when she vanished.
Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said Nolan was dressed in a green sleeveless shirt and jeans when she went out with friends on June 22 in downtown Madison.
The group hit a number of bars and restaurants before Nolan became separated from them about midnight. DeSpain said he wasn’t sure how or why she left the group.
Others who were downtown that night have told police they saw and spoke with Nolan after she left her friends, DeSpain said. Detectives aren’t saying whether she was with someone during those encounters.
Sometime after midnight, Nolan talked to her sister, April, by phone, DeSpain said. He declined to release details of that conversation.
Nolan, who stayed in close touch with her mother and sister, didn’t return to her apartment Saturday morning, stirring fears among her family that something happened to her, DeSpain said.
“She just drops off the radar by daylight Saturday,” he said.
A team of detectives are still talking with Nolan’s family, friends and others who saw her early that morning. Divers checked Lake Mendota around the UW-Madison student union, where college students sometimes swim. Nolan’s friends posted messages on the Internet asking for help.
But so far, nothing.
Janeway said Nolan “was always up for a good time, like any other college student.”
Her mother, Mary Jane Nolan, said her daughter wouldn’t have gone anywhere against her will.
“She’d say no and she’d mean it,” said Mary Jane Nolan, 55. “I would like to believe a strange thing happened. I pray for that clue. … I think we’re going to get that silver lining, and Kelly’s walking right out of it.”
Nolan’s disappearance invokes memories of missing UW-Madison student Audrey Seiler. The search for her in 2004 consumed Madison police until she turned up alive in a swamp. Seiler eventually told detectives she had staged the entire abduction.
The national media descended on Madison to cover Seiler. Nolan young, white and pretty, like Seiler is beginning to get the same media attention.
DeSpain said 154 people have been reported missing in Madison since 2001. A dozen have gone missing so far this year, he said. All but three were found.
“It’s like Audrey Seiler in the sense you have a young college age female who’s disappeared from the UW campus area, and as you and I both know, the national media seems to glom on to stories that involve young females who disappear,” DeSpain said. “If you or I were to disappear … the national media is not coming.”
Janeway said Nolan isn’t like Seiler and wouldn’t run away.
“She could take care of herself. She’s not a completely sheltered person. She’s a strong person,” Janeway said. “We just want people to know … this is abnormal for her. She has hopes and dreams. She just didn’t run away or something.”
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