‘Too many missing, murdered in Ky’ 9th annual candlelight vigil held

Published 2:45 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2024

JUNCTION CITY – There’s not a day that goes by that the family of Michael Gorley doesn’t wonder what happened to him.

It’s been nine years since Gorley was last seen alive. After several years passed without answers, the family presumed Michael to be dead, but that doesn’t stop them from searching for answers in his murder, and for his remains.

After he went missing on May 17, 2015, his mother, Sandra Hasty, organized a candlelight vigil to raise awareness about missing and unsolved murder cases in Kentucky. That list of people has continued to grow ever since then.

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The 9th annual Candlelight Vigil and Celebration of Life event was held May 18. The event serves as a time for friends and family members of missing/murdered victims to gather together, talk about their pain and raise awareness of unsolved cases. It brings people from all areas across the state together. During the event, a slideshow is played that includes all unsolved missing and murdered victims in the state.

There’s one thing that everyone in attendance agreed on – there are too many unsolved missing and murder cases in Kentucky.

Many chose to speak about their cases during the event, including Jennifer Gorley Coffey, Michael’s sister.

Coffey said she was walking into the Boyle County Fair one night last summer when someone handed her a religious pamphlet. She stuck it in her pocket and didn’t think much of it until later one day she saw it and read it.

“It goes on to say, in civil law a good judge must punish crime. If he turns a blind eye to injustice then he is corrupt and he himself should be punished,” Coffey read. “Then it goes on to say in one 10-year period in the United States, 100,000 murderers are never brought to justice. These were unsolved crimes. If God turns a blind eye to those murderers, then he is corrupt by nature. It makes sense, that if he is good and just, he should be angry with those that have taken the lives of others and he should punish murderers, rapists, etc. This is the teaching of the Bible, that God will by no means clear the guilty. He will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. God is angry with the wicked every day.”

Coffey said when she read that she was amazed.

“That was a ‘wow’ moment for me…,” she said. “I open this book and read it when I get upset that we don’t have answers in Michael’s case. It’s been nine years, which is a long time to go through what we’ve been through and a lot of you all know exactly that pain, you know that sorrow, you know that ache. So I felt the need to share that with you all because everything done in darkness will be brought to light, whether it be in our court system or in front of God. Those who have done these things, and murdered people, will be held accountable one way or another.”

Coffey said there is power in numbers and thanked everyone for attending.

“Events like this, that’s why it’s important, it does pull on your heart strings and it’s not easy to come to these every year, I will tell you that. It is emotional, but it is necessary,” she said.

Another local murder case that was discussed was Desiree Sparks.

Desiree was found naked and deceased on West Skyline Drive in Lincoln County on Oct. 1, 2016. John G. Stamper, Jr. was later charged with her murder. To this day, a trial has not been held. Stamper, who was out on bond for some time, is back in the Boyle County Detention Center on new charges including unlawful transaction with a minor. He was recently indicted by a grand jury on those charges.

Desiree’s sister, Desma, spoke during the event.

“Hopefully there will be progress in her case in some form or fashion,” she said. “He is in jail but we’ll just have to wait and see I guess. I also come in support of my father, Ted Sparks, and Mark Snyder, my fiance, who was murdered in 2012 by Thomas Hager. He was sentenced to life without parole. Thank you all for coming and for supporting everyone.”

Jania Walker New also spoke about her cousin, James “Bo” Havens, who was murdered in Corbin in 2016. The case remains unsolved. New also spoke for Teresa Atkins, the mother of a Lincoln County woman named Catisha Ascencio who was murdered in 2020. The man accused of reckless homicide went free after a failure to indict.

Other cases from across the state that were discussed include missing Jason Yocum and murdered Dustin Todd Privett. Sharon Hardin also spoke on behalf of her nephew, Kevin Watts, who was murdered.

Hasty thanked the group for coming to what has become a very important event to her each year. She said it would not be possible without Chris Weldon, who allows the group to use the building each year.

“Justice for our missing and murdered,” she said in closing.

Toni Brown Goodman and Lora Duvall and Carissa Smith and Daniel Smith with Kentucky Bloodhound Search and Rescue were in attendance. Dave and Kendra Conrad with Hunter Hounds also attended. Michael Gorley’s daughter, Ashlyn Denny was also in attendance, as well as the following: Donna and Alan McIntyre of Missing and Not Forgotten; Carmi Rockwell; Jackson Harris; Kayla Wilson; Logan Vanarsdall; Crystal Coffey; Charles Coffey Jr.; Sharon Hardin; Ronda Moore Davis; Amy Denny; Parker Merrick; Jessica Merrick; Dylan Merrick; Teresa Atkins; Addison Coffey; Kagan Coffey; Dorothy Hair; Zoey Redden; Lisa Jones; Misty Sizemore; Christina Young; Terie Strock; Melinda Copley Gilbert; Keisha Phillips; David and Kendra Conrad; Michael Sanchez; Melinda Tillet; Amy Denny; Kerri Burchett; and Dearl Burchett.