Alissa met her boyfriend on May 17, 2001, to tell him that her stepfather was going to pick her up for lunch, and that was the last time anyone saw her.
17-year-old Alissa Turney went missing in 2001 on her last day at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Arizona. 19 years after her disappearance, her stepfather Michael Turney was finally arrested in August 2020 and faces charges of second-degree murder.
Like most teens have a phase in their lives where they want to run away from their house, Alissa did too and so when Michael told her younger step-sister Sarah that the teen had run away, she believed him.
When the then-12-year-old Sarah found a note in her sister's room saying she was headed to California, she had no other option but to trust her father's story completely. "I wasn't worried. I was under the impression she was going to be back. I don't think her being gone forever was anything that ever crossed my mind," revealed the now 31-year-old to People.
Following the death of Alissa's mother because of lung cancer, the teen stayed with Michael and Sara. In a press conference last year, Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel revealed that “she poked her head into her boyfriend’s woodworking class … and said her stepfather was taking her out of school early. She has never been seen or heard from again,” as per The Cut.
For years, young Sara defended her father who was a former sheriff's deputy but the more she investigated the case herself through discussing it on news channels, launching a website, the more she realized that Michael was somehow involved in the case. "For me, it was kind of like a switch."
The determined sister then launched an online petition asking for Michael's arrest, which was signed by 294,610 people. To keep the people interested in the cold case, Sarah also started a podcast, Voices for Justice along with Tik Tok videos. Finally, on August 19, 2020, Sarah got what she wanted. 72-year-old Michael was charged with a single count of second-degree murder by the grand jury.
The podcast also included a chilling audio from the 1997 home video where Alissa can be heard calling Michael a "pervert." Another audio from 2017 was also a part of the podcast where the then-28-year-old Sarah confronted her father and asked him what really happened, according to The Cut.
"Be there at the deathbed, Sarah. I will give you all the honest answers you want to hear," he said. When the young woman asked him why he wouldn't give her the answers now, he added, “Because you’ve got ‘em now.” Not only was this the last time Sarah spoke to Michael, but the audio helped the police in making a stronger case against the step-father.
The police got more suspicious of Michael after he refused to let them into his house in 2008 when they requested to search Alissa's bedroom. He also refused to cooperate with them. According to The New York Times, the step-father was not only abusive, but he was also surveilling and controlling the teen as well. In a statement, the F.B.I said that they found “26 pipe bombs and three incendiary devices."
In the search conducted in 2008, the investigators also found that Michael had installed surveillance cameras all around his home. According to the police, the step-father also recorded all the calls that came and went from his house. What struck them the most was that even after six months of her disappearance, Alissa hadn't used the $1,860 that she had in her bank. In fact, Michael transferred the funds to his own account.
The police wrote, "Michael Turney has exhibited an apparent obsession with his step-daughter, Alissa. He admitted to conducting surveillance on her at work, using binoculars to spy on her." Alissa's relatives also told the detectives that he gave the teen too much attention, to the point that it was uncomfortable. They also found contracts between the teen and Michael with one from 1999 declaring that he never molested her.
In the 2008 20/20 interview with John Quiñones, Michael denied any role in Alissa's disappearance and stressed on his innocence. After Michael was charged with the second-degree murder of Alissa, Sarah took to Twitter expressing how overwhelmed she was. She penned, "I’m shaking and I’m crying. We did it you guys. He’s been arrested. Omg thank you. #justiceforalissa Never give up hope that you can get justice. It took almost 20 years but we did it." She's "optimistic" that Alissa will find justice.
I’m shaking and I’m crying. We did it you guys. He’s been arrested. Omg 😭 thank you. #justiceforalissa Never give up hope that you can get justice. It took almost 20 years but we did it. https://t.co/Xouva7yVdD— Sarah Turney (@SarahETurney) August 20, 2020
While announcing the grand jury indictment, Allister appreciated Sarah for her persistence and said, “Your perseverance and commitment to finding justice for your sister, Alissa, is a testament to the love of a sister. Because of that love, Alissa’s light has never gone out.”
Michael is expected to stand trial sometime in 2021.