At first glance, nothing at Stephanie Parze’s New Jersey home gave away the fact that something was terribly wrong. Her car, her dog and her cellphone were all where they were supposed to be. Nothing in the house appeared to be disturbed. The only clue was that Parze, herself, was nowhere to be found.
The 25-year-old Freehold Township woman has been missing since Oct. 30, last heard from that night when she was pictured in a Snapchat photo she sent her mother. Earlier that evening, Parze, her mother, her three sisters and other female relatives went to medium Cindy Kaza’s show at the Stress Factory Comedy Club in New Brunswick, her family told the New York Post.
After seeing the psychic, Parze went back to her parents’ home with her mother, kissed her goodnight and left for her own home about 10:30 p.m., her father told the paper. It was on the drive home that she sent the photo to her mom. But Parze never texted her family to let them know she made it home safe, as she could always be counted on to do.
“She’s not the type of kid that would do anything without telling us,” her father, Edward Parze, told the Post. “We’re always in constant contact.” The following morning, Stephanie’s parents drove to her home, where they found her car parked in the driveway. And then after not hearing from her all day, they returned Thursday evening.
“We couldn’t find her,” Edward said. “My wife pinged her phone and it rang and [we] found it inside the couch.”
Texts from someone Stephanie was working for asking about her whereabouts since she hadn’t shown up for work confirmed for her parents their sinking feeling that something was wrong. The couple contacted authorities to report their daughter missing and have since asserted she would never go off on her own accord without being in touch with her loved ones.
“Things weren’t adding up,” Edward told the Post. “She wouldn’t just run off like that. She wouldn’t leave her phone behind.”
Last Wednesday, more than 170 law enforcement officials from New Jersey and New York—including members of the NYPD’s canine unit—scoured Long Pond Park, a 115-acre preserve on Staten Island, in search of any clues that would lead them to Stephanie, Chris Swendeman, a spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, told The New York Times.
The search did not continue Thursday, but the reasons for the search’s apparent conclusion, or why that location may have been relevant to the investigation, were not immediately clear. “We’re not going to talk about an open investigation,” Swendemen told the Times.
A week earlier, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement they were “following up on every lead” and that their investigation had led them to the New York borough. “Our investigation to this point has not given us any reason to believe that there is any danger to the general public,” the statement said. “This matter remains a high priority as investigators are determined to locate Ms. Parze.”
That week, a person of interest in Stephanie’s disappearance was arrested on an unrelated charge, according to reports. John Ozbilgen, 29, was held for 11 days following the discovery on Nov. 8 of 10 images prosecutors classified as violent child pornography on his phone after authorities executed search warrants originally related to Stephanie’s disappearance, News 12 New Jersey reported.
Ozbilgen, who reportedly dated Stephanie for several months and used to live not far from Long Pond Park, was charged with one count of child pornography in the third degree and was held in the Monmouth County Jail until Tuesday, when Judge Paul Escandon released him.
Prosecutors said Stephanie in September filed a simple assault domestic violence complaint against Ozbilgen, claiming Ozbilgen hit her on the head.
About a month later, on Oct. 30 — the last day Stephanie was seen alive — Ozbilgen allegedly sent at least 10 text and Facebook messages to her saying “she always has to make their relationship suck” and calling her a “f****** c***," Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Caitlin Sidley said in court Tuesday, according to the Asbury Park Press.
Ozbilgen was also allegedly found to have marks on his neck when he was questioned in Stephanie's disappearance, according to Sidley, but Escandon said there wasn’t a strong enough case to keep him behind bars, News 12 reported.
Ozbilgen’s attorney, Robert Honecker, told WNBC-TV his client was relieved he was being released and maintains his innocence on the pornography charge. “Allegations have to be substantiated in a court of law, not in public opinion,” Honecker said in response to reports of his client being a person of interest in Stephanie’s disappearance.
Ozbilgen has not been charged in connection to Stephanie's disappearance.
When asked about Ozbilgen, Stephanie’s father told the Asbury Park Press he only met him briefly once or twice, but declined to further comment. Instead, Edward was focused on bringing his daughter home.
Instead of a dazzling Christmas display that for more than three decades the Parze family proudly created and that attracted onlookers from across the state, in its place stands a large sign that reads “Stephanie Come Home” and displays a photo of the young woman at its center.
“I know all the people that are going to go by the house and they're gonna be like, ‘What happened?’” he told News 12. “The Parze home is not supposed to look like this. You know, it’s not about the lights. It’s all about her right now, so you know, just want to get her home. That’s it, that the goal.”
Wearing a shirt emblazoned with his daughter’s name and the same photo on the sign in his yard, Edward noted he had organized a search party for Stephanie that has been met with an overwhelming response from others hoping to lend a hand.
“The support has been overwhelming,” he told the Asbury Park Press. “The community, surrounding areas and all the agencies out here have been absolutely amazing."
Others have shown their support online, including family friend David Mound who created a GoFundMe campaign to financially sustain the family during the search. More than $10,000 had been raised as of Tuesday. “This latest crisis has taken place at a time when the family has already been struggling,” the GoFundMe page said. “If you are interested in contributing, to assist the Parze family as they navigate this challenging time, it would help them focus their attention on locating Stephanie.”
Stephanie works as a professional makeup artist and wax specialist, according to her Facebook, and also works as a nanny. She studies fine arts and went to vocational school for cosmetology, her page said. Loved ones described her as tough, independent, caring and loving.
“No one knows what she is going through or where she is or who is doing this. The only person who knows anything is Stephanie and the scum who took her,” one of her sisters, Briana, wrote on Facebook. “So please just keep sharing to spread the word. Send your prayers because we will find her she deserves to come home and she will.”
Stephanie stands 4 feet, 11 inches and weighs 115 pounds. She has brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen wearing blue jeans, a burgundy V-neck shirt and a burgundy sweater. Anyone with any information, or anyone who has had contact with Stephanie, is urged to contact Detective Shawn Murphy of the Prosecutor’s Office at 732-431-7160, ext. 7032, or Detective Daniel Valentine of Freehold Township police at 732-462-7908.