GREENVILLE, S.C. – Faye Marie Swetlik may have never been far from home.
When she was found Thursday, she was among the trees near her Cayce, South Carolina house.
Just steps from where the Cayce Department of Public Safety held some of its first press conferences. Just steps from where the community left plush teddy bears and bundles of red roses and shiny heart-shaped balloons for the six-year-old girl.
These were Valentine’s Day gifts, but this was a memorial.
In the last five days, her story traveled across the country, engaging concerned strangers from California to Texas to Florida, according to the Social Media Insights Lab at the University of South Carolina.
Through social media, hundreds of millions of people may have seen pictures of the smiling girl with strawberry blonde hair or watched the video that showed her walking off her elementary school bus the day she went missing.
For days, they shared the missing person flyer that described what the bubbly first-grader wore when she played outside in her front yard Monday afternoon, a black shirt with neon colors, a flower print skirt, polka dot rain boots. They posted prayers for her by the tens of thousands.
Meanwhile, law enforcement from Cayce, the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office, State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI methodically searched her neighborhood of Churchill Heights, a subdivision off a busy highway near the Columbia, South Carolina, airport.
For three days, investigators searched the rows of one-story homes with basketball hoops in the driveways and bicycles leaning in carports. They asked for any video from home security or doorbell cameras. They searched bags of trash. They asked the public to help identify a couple cars that were spotted on these streets around the time she disappeared Monday.
It was a massive effort, and the world was watching.
But it was a small thing, a detail listed on that missing person flyer, that emerged as critical evidence, investigators said Friday, and it re-focused their search to an area maybe 100 or 150 feet away from Faye’s front yard.
This evidence was found in a trashcan belonging to 602 Picadilly Square. Investigators discovered the body of Coty Scott Taylor, 30, at his residence there, moments after they found Faye.
Sgt. First Class Evan Antley with the Cayce Department of Public Safety said during a Friday press conference that Taylor was not a relative or a friend.
He was just a neighbor, living steps away from her.
Antley would not reveal Friday exactly what that piece of evidence was.
He noted that they believed that Taylor was linked to Faye’s death, but would not go into any more detail at that time.
As investigators were in the planning stages of the renewed search, Cayce Department of Public Safety director Byron Snellgrove found Faye’s body in a wooded area near Taylor’s home.
Antley said the area had been searched before, and investigators do not believe she was in that location for long before her body was found. Taylor did not have a criminal history and was not known to law enforcement, according to Antley.
Police also released 911 calls Friday. Faye’s mother sounded desperate and distraught Monday when she called 911 to report her daughter missing. Selena Collins breathlessly described what her daughter was wearing when she was last seen playing in the front yard about an hour earlier.
The investigation continues. Antley said authorities are working to determine whether anyone else was involved. Autopsies are scheduled Saturday for both Faye and Taylor.
On Friday afternoon, Faye’s missing person flyer still hung in the doors of a few of Cayce’s gas stations. It’s a town of maybe 14,000 people, located just a few miles west of South Carolina’s capital city along the Congaree River.
There’s an antique store and a pool hall and a couple of barbecue joints that have been serving plates for decades.
Churches appear by the block, it seems.
It’s a close-knit type of town, said Frank Miller. A family-type of place.
He runs the Doc’s Auto ER with his wife and two sons, just a few miles from the Baptist church where Cayce Department of Public Safety held press conferences the last couple of days.
On Tuesday morning, he removed the block lettering of his business sign. It said something about cold weather and antifreeze, but none of that didn’t matter anymore.
“Pray for Faye,” it now says on one side. His wife, Donna, wrote “God Bless Faye!” on the other.
It was a small thing, he knows. Just 24 letters.
But as he rearranged the letters, he thought that maybe, just maybe, the family would drive by and find some comfort on the sign. A moment of relief might help, he thought, and it’s all that he could do.
He finds comfort in prayer, Miller said Friday afternoon. He’s on his knees every night, he said. Miller’s a grandfather of two now, and he still remembers when his sons were Faye’s age. “I am 61 and I would most gladly trade places with her,” he said. “She had her whole life in front of her.”
He’s going to leave the messages up for a couple more weeks. The need for prayers didn’t end when Faye was found Thursday, he said. Miller doesn’t know Faye. He doesn’t have to.
Tina Dyches didn’t know Faye’s name until Monday evening, but she knew her face.
She said the always-smiling girl sat at her Waffle House counter on Saturday mornings. Her order was a waffle, no syrup. She dipped pieces into butter instead.
Faye was at that Waffle House on Saturday, Dyches said. It is so close to her house that she could have walked there.
They talked about how Faye’s next stop was a music shop. She was going to buy her cousin new guitar strings for his birthday.
Dyches remembers the kids she serves. Children are “pure innocence,” she said. They are nice to her. They might chat even when their parents might ignore her.
She immediately recognized Faye’s smile when she saw her image on a TV broadcast.
The last few days, she’s watched law enforcement vehicles come and go across the highway. She could see the red and blue lights from the diner’s windows.
When Dyches finished her shift Friday afternoon, she decided to do something for Faye. She worried that it might be corny or silly or too small to matter. That worry faded in a moment.
She packed up a waffle for her. She placed it next to a unicorn stuffed animal at the Churchill Heights memorial.
Dyches would drive home next. Her two boys, 10 and 8, would be back from school soon.
She used to watch them wait for the bus from the window. This week, she’s stood right next to them.
It was a sunny, warm Friday afternoon. They would want to play in their back yard, she was sure of it. Maybe they’d want to ride their bikes.
She would sit outside with them, no matter what they wanted to do. She would keep them in her sight.
She would never be more than just steps away.