WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s been almost one year since the devastating disappearance of 6-year-old Faye Swetlik.
The bright and bubbly little girl from Cayce captured the hearts of people across the nation.
She went missing from her front porch in the Churchill Heights community on February 10, 2020, launching a multi-agency search. Hundreds of officers searched homes, creeks, woods, and trash cans within a short radius from her home for three straight days.
Cayce Department of Public Safety director Byron Snellgrove found Faye’s body not far from where she was last seen on February 13. Officials say her neighbor, Coty Taylor, killed her and then took his own life. We still don’t know why.
“For me, after 65 hours of searching, the memory of finding the small body of Faye Marie Swetlik in a shallow grave on the morning of February 13, 2020, will never ever leave me,” Snellgrove explained.
This tragic case has taken a toll on the officers who were dedicated to finding her. Nearly one year later, they haven’t forgotten.
“The disappearance and murder of Faye Marie Swetlik immediately became and always will remain incredibly personal for each of us,” said Snellgrove.
Snellgrove says the operation to find Faye was the largest of its kind in South Carolina history.
“Sadly, this extraordinary effort did not give us the ending to the case we had hoped and prayed for,” he noted.
Lexington County Coroner Margaret Fisher still remembers where she was and the weather the day she got the call they had found Faye’s body. She struggled to share how the little girl died, saying this was the hardest case for her and her employees.
“This one has just stayed with us,” said Fisher. “We think about her all the time. Every time we go past that area, she is on our minds. It’s just one of those things we are never going to be able to forget.”
Fisher worked with Charleston County to hold a procession for Faye as the 6-year-old’s body was transported from her autopsy at MUSC in Charleston back to Cayce.
“I just remember people on the side of the road with signs and their hands over their hearts,” Fisher tearfully explained. “It was just unreal, and I remember crying for three hours on the trip home. It was just amazing the way everybody came together to bring this little girl home and to give her the dignity that she deserved to get her back to her family.”
This case hit the Cayce Department of Public Safety hard. Five officers choose to retire within six months of Faye’s death.
“I see how this loss impacted our officers and our staff,” said Snellgrove. “This makes it almost impossible to imagine the worry, and in the end, the horror that her family experienced during this time.”
Some officers have received personal counseling over the past year, including Snellgrove. He says his team has also received FBI training on how to handle cases involving children since Faye’s death, and he notes the FBI is using this case to train other agencies on how to rapidly deploy officers in response to child abductions.
Just like in life, Faye’s light brought joy to everyone who knew her in her absence, bringing the community closer together over the past year.
“Faye was a bright, young 6-year-old girl,” Snellgrove explained. “Her life being cut tragically like this can have a positive effect, and we hated that that’s the case, but the community and the department have come together and have grown together.”
Snellgrove finds comfort in a painting of Faye that hangs in his office. For Fisher, it’s a tie-dye bracelet that reminds her of little Faye.
“She will be forever in our hearts,” said Fisher. “We are never going to forget her. Every day is going to be Faye day here.”
This little girl is so loved and missed by those she knew, and she’s forever touching the lives of those she’ll never meet.
“Fly high and look over us,” said Snellgrove. “Fly high God’s little angel, Faye Marie Swetlik.”
This week, Faye’s family and the Town of Springdale Police Department are asking people to wear pink and purple, Faye’s favorite colors, and to randomly show kindness to others.
Wednesday, WIS will share how Faye’s mom and dad are remembering their precious little girl.