CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — It’s been 20 years since 4-year-old Kynande Bennett of Conway disappeared.

The girl’s parents claimed she went missing from a Whiteville, North Carolina, Kmart on Sept. 29, 2002. When investigators got to the scene, they noticed several things felt wrong with the situation. 

There was no car seat for the 4-year-old, and the store’s surveillance video did not show Bennett in the store at any time. In fact, there was nothing to indicate that she was in Whiteville at all. 

Monica Caison, founder of the CUE Center for Missing Persons, led the search for the girl. She said the parents displayed strange behavior from the beginning. 

“Normally parents are devastated,” Caison said. “They were upset, but I think more angry that they were there at the police station.”

Caison has been working on missing-persons cases for decades. She said she has become familiar with the typical behaviors of parents. 

“I can tell you that even in adult children, but always missing children, parents never can eat or drink,” Caison said. “It’s like someone just slapped them and they lay down and it’s hard for them to move. They’re very fragile, and everything brings them a sliver of hope. I didn’t experience all of that. The mother immediately ate fine, and she was drinking.”

Caison also visited the home in Conway where Bennett and her mother lived. 

“I remember walking around the back and seeing all the child’s clothing and toys and different things in the trash can,” Caison said. 

Caison said this was a telltale sign that something was wrong.

“I still have parents that their kids are missing 10, 15, 20 years later, and they still have a shrine,” she said. “They still save every little thing, every little toy. So, that was not normal.”

Caison also said the way Bennett’s parents talked about their child was a disturbing red flag, as they only referred to her in the past tense. 

As the police investigation continued, Bennett’s mother, Vartasha McCullough White, failed a polygraph test. They also learned that Bennett’s grandparents had told Conway police that they were worried about the little girl. 

With the evidence, White and the girl’s father, Kevin Bennett, were charged with homicide by child abuse. The case went to court where Caison testified for the prosecution. Kevin Bennett’s charges were dropped because of a lack of sufficient evidence.

“I didn’t see the normal behavior, and I testified on that,” Caison said. 

It was the first time in South Carolina’s history that a child’s murder case went to trial without a body.

White was found guilty by an Horry County jury of homicide by child abuse as well as unlawful neglect and inflicting great bodily injury on a child. A judge sentenced her to 20 years in prison. She is at Leath Correctional Facility in Greenwood where she is expected to be released in January. 

Now, 20 years later, Kynande Bennett’s body still has not been found. Caison said they will not give up on her. 

“Everyone has the right to be found. They deserve to be found,” Caison said. “I do believe someday someone will be in the right place and will find her. I believe she’s still in the area and possibly on private property, and that’s why we’re unable to find her. We searched so many, many places for her and we just never got to the right place.”