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I-75 remains identified as beauty school student missing since 2004

TAMPA — Six years ago, an 18-year-old beauty school student packed up her smock, tools and extra clothes and headed to catch a bus to class.

No one heard from Lisa Ann Mowrey again.

That is, until two blueberry farmers stranded on the side of Interstate 75 last week discovered human bones.

Days later, police were calling her parents to tell them their daughter had been found.

"I started crying and shaking uncontrollably," Donna Mowrey told Bay News 9 on Tuesday, one week after the roadside discovery. "They were trying to get me to wait … but I kept motioning for them to tell me."

Donna Mowrey said from the moment she heard about the bones, she asked God to not let them be those of her daughter. For Tom Mowrey, the possibility of the cases being related was remote.

"There have been so many over the years," he said. "I didn't even make the connection."

The Hillsborough County medical examiner determined that the remains belonged to Lisa Ann Mowrey. She was identified by dental records. Police are waiting for the Medical Examiner's Office to rule on a cause of death, which is still a mystery.

"It's being treated very seriously because without knowing what the death is going to be ruled as, we can't leave anything unturned," said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

Lisa, a student at the Manhattan Hairstyling Academy, 2317 E Fletcher Ave., was last seen at 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2004. Her parents reported her missing.

At the time of her disappearance, she was staying with a teacher from her high school, Dawn White, who said Lisa moved in after graduation following complaints of family troubles.

"She said she was going to run away. I said, 'Don't do that. Come live with us,' " White said.

On Dec. 12, 2003, Tampa police had been called to a domestic incident at the Mowrey family business, a nonprofit family counseling center. State Attorney's Office records show that Lisa, who was 17 at the time, was the reported victim and her father was the reported abuser.

But police didn't arrest anybody. The State Attorney's Office dropped the case because of lack of proof, Assistant State Attorney Douglas Covington said.

White said Lisa was saving up for college while she took classes at the hairstyling academy.

Lisa hoped to go to the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee and study animal husbandry, White said.

Donna Mowrey said her eldest daughter was always standing up for her siblings — especially her twin brother, who was picked on in school.

"She was small but she was mighty," she told Bay News 9.

Lisa also had a competitive streak, her parents recalled.

The pastor of the family's church in Clearwater said Lisa was a compassionate woman who wanted to be a veterinarian. At church, she'd happily fill in for Pastor Heather Dixon each time she worked with animals.

"She'd say, 'Oh! I got to ride a horse this past weekend,' " Dixon said. "She was so wonderful. It's hard. There was always hope in the back of our minds, in our congregation, that she would be found alive."

White said she gave Lisa a bus pass and tried to encourage her to be more independent — something she says she now regrets.

"She always came back home, you know, there was never an issue," White said. "Then one day she didn't come back."

Lisa had been acting strangely in the weeks before she disappeared, White said. She was skittish and cried often.

White found that Lisa had suffered from depression and bipolar disorder, illnesses posted on a MySpace page that quotes her family about her disappearance.

Lisa's parents held out hope that their daughter would turn up safe, they told Bay News 9. Now, they want answers.

"You can't go back. You can't go forward," Donna Mowrey said. "But you've got to find it within you to go on for your other children to live their lives."

Times news researcher Shirl Kennedy and Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report.

I-75 remains identified as beauty school student missing since 2004 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:03pm]
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