It was a week before Christmas in 2011 when Phoenix Coldon vanished without a trace. The 23-year-old, who family members said was an excellent musician and a regular at church, was gone, but her SUV was found stopped in the middle of a road with the engine running and her keys still inside.
It’s been nearly seven years and the case is still unsolved, making Coldon one of the nearly 75,000 missing Black women in America. St. Louis reporter Shawndrea Thomas is hoping to change that, however, with a new “Crime Time” series airing on the Oxygen network this week.
“The Disappearance of Phoenix Coldon,” premiering in a two-night special event Saturday, Nov. 3, and Sunday, Nov. 4, follows Thomas and former Maryland Heights Deputy Chief Joe Delia as they uncover new facts about the case. The cable TV special promises viewers a closer look at Coldon’s family as investigators recount the months leading up to the young woman’s mysterious disappearance.
“We look at everything from homicide to sex trafficking,” Thomas told Atlanta Black Star. “In the series, you’ll see us explore everything. You know, the main, most viable theories.”
In the weeks after the college student vanished, her family argued that police and the local media weren’t giving the case enough attention, due in part to the fact that their daughter was African-American. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Coldon’s mom credited the organization “Black and Missing But Not Forgotten” for raising public awareness and getting the mainstream media’s attention.
Thomas, a former reporter with St. Louis station FOX 2, recalled the day she was introduced to Coldon’s story. A young woman who attended the same school as Coldon handed her one of the many missing person flyers plastered around campus. Thomas said she knew it was a story that needed to be covered, so she pitched it herself.
“The thing that stands out for me as far as my memory from that day is when I walked up to the door of [the Coldon] house, they had these three huge windows, floor-to-ceiling, at the front … and then their door was glass,” she recalled. “And Phoenix’s pictures were just plastered all over the windows, all over the doors.”
Since Coldon’s disappearance, Thomas said she has made it a point to keep her story alive, whether it be running the young’s woman’s photo on the anniversary of her disappearance (Dec. 18) or alerting viewers to be on the lookout for any signs of her. Otherwise, the story would’ve been all but forgotten, much like stories of other Black men, women and children gone missing.
Thomas said the case, her first missing persons story, is one that has “haunted” her for years.
“As journalists, we do hundreds of stories [and] talk to thousands of people, but some stories just stick with you and haunt you,” she said. “And this was one of those stories for me.”
When Thomas first went to meet with the Coldon family, she said Coldon’s mother, Goldia Coldon, handed her a palm card with the details of her daughter’s disappearance. Thomas taped it to her desk and vowed to never take it down until Coldon’s case was solved.
That day hasn’t come, but it hasn’t stopped Thomas from fighting to give Coldon’s story the awareness it deserves. Ensuring similar stories of missing Black people are heard and fairly covered boils down to the lack of diversity in newsrooms, the journalist said.
“From management, to producers, to the assignment desk to your talent — if those people aren’t in place and they’re not a reflection of the community that you live in, these stories will slip through the cracks,” said Thomas.
She continued, “You have to have that newsroom that’s balanced with all types of people, so that when things like this come up you have people in those meetings who can push for those stories like I did that day. People tend to gravitate toward things that affect them.”
After watching “The Disappearance of Phoenix Coldon,” Thomas said she hopes viewers walk away with the hope that Coldon and others will be found. The reporter, who quit her anchor job last year to work on the series, said raising awareness about Coldon’s story is something she was called to do.
“Given the chance to do something of substance and significance, it was an amazing experience,” she said. “And I’d do it all over again.”
Watch more in the clip below.