For a short, hopeful time, she was a missing teenager.

But the search for the girl ended as badly as it could have.

Five years ago today, Adrianne Reynolds, 16, was strangled by classmates Sarah Kolb and Cory Gregory while on lunch break from school. The fact that the East Moline girl was murdered by two other teens in the parking lot of a Moline fast-food restaurant in broad daylight was shocking.

As details emerged, the case grew more shocking.

Another teen, Nathan Gaudet, was recruited by Kolb and Gregory to help hide Adrianne’s remains. To get rid of her fingerprints and dental work, Gaudet used his grandfather’s handsaw to cut her body into pieces — removing her head and arms.

Gaudet, Kolb and Gregory left part of the body at Kolb’s grandparents’ farm in Mercer County, stuffing the head and arms into a garbage bag, which they dropped into a manhole at a Rock Island park. Before disposing of their classmate’s severed remains, the teenagers grabbed lunch at McDonald’s.

Few people came to know the details better than Rock Island County State’s Attorney Jeff Terronez, who had taken the oath of office for the first time just a month before the murder. He ultimately landed a conviction against Kolb and a plea deal with Gregory.

Gaudet served four years of a five-year sentence in juvenile detention and now is free. Kolb is serving 48 years for murder, and Gregory is serving 40. Each received another five-year sentence for concealing the homicide.

“It seems like yesterday,” Terronez said of Adrianne’s murder. “I can tell you that.

“I’ve moved on, though. I hate to say it, but we’ve got cases now that need attention. It doesn’t help anybody to keep looking back.”

Moving on

Adrianne’s adoptive father and stepmother, Tony and Joann Reynolds, say they can’t help looking back. After five years, they still wonder about the details that did not come out in court hearings.

“I still think about her fighting for her life in that car,” Joann Reynolds said this week. “I’d like to visit Cory (Gregory) in prison one day but only if he’s willing to tell the truth about what happened in that car.”

Tony Reynolds wants to know the whole truth, too, and feels badgered at times by his imagination.

“I think sometimes about what they did to her after her death,” he said. “Did they kick her? I don’t know why I do that. I shouldn’t.”

As a father, Tony Reynolds wants more than anything for his little girl to be remembered.

“I loved her, and I miss her and like talking about her,” he said Sunday. “We took flowers to the cemetery today, and I probably go there more than I should. But it makes me feel good when I see someone else has been there, too.”

Cemetery visits and special occasions are especially tough, he said.

“Her 21st birthday (Sept. 12) was one of the hardest days I’ve had in a long time, thinking about what she should have been doing,” he said.

Joann Reynolds said the family has kept Adrianne’s room the way she left it, adding gifts, cards, statues and laminated news stories. She said she sometimes wonders what will become of the collection. 

“I sometimes think we should clean it out — put it all away,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “Then I wonder if that is letting her go.”

Her dad thinks about what it means to let her go, too.

“I hope there’s a better place, and that’s always been my thing — wishing there was more proof that place exists,” he said. “If anybody deserves to be in a better place, it’s Adrianne.”

Finding something good

Adrianne Reynolds was working on her GED at Black Hawk Outreach Center, East Moline, at the time of her murder.

She had struggled with school, partly because of being moved back and forth between her birth mother’s home in Texas and her Quad-City home. But to realize her dream of joining the Marines, she needed that GED.

“When we started the Adrianne Leigh Reynolds Memorial Fund, we had the GED in mind,” Tony Reynolds said. “That was really important to her, and we knew the reason a lot of kids don’t get their GED is they can’t afford to take the test.”

Because of Adrianne’s fund, 66 Quad-City students who couldn’t otherwise have afforded to do so have taken their GED in the past five years. Other nonprofit agencies have benefited from the nearly $10,000 fund, too, but Adrianne’s family finds it especially satisfying to help other young people find their way.

“In a sick way, Adrianne left this world being somebody,” Joann Reynolds said. “It’s not just because of her case, but because of her memorial. You say, ‘Adrianne Reynolds,’ and a lot of people know who you’re talking about.”

Among those who have not forgotten are members of the staff at Black Hawk Outreach, who have designated donations to Adrianne’s fund, said Glenda Nicke, associate dean of extended educational programs for Black Hawk College.

“The GED test is $100 in Iowa, and it’s $50 in Illinois,” Nicke said. “That $50 can prevent a student from taking the test. It might as well be $500 or $5,000 if you don’t have it.

“That (Adrianne’s fund) was the only source we had for funds for testing, so this was a very nice thing for the family to do. It really filled a void.”

And that helps fill the family’s void.

“We still do the car washes each year to raise money, and I’ve always called it Adrianne’s money,” her father said. “Five years ago, I never thought she ran away, but I didn’t think she was dead.

“Some days, it still feels like that nightmare.”