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NEWS UPDATE

Shannon Denise Melendi 

10/20/74 - 3/26/94


The Shannon Melendi Story

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The Vanishing of Shannon

By Diana Montané

Myths and legends serve to symbolize rites of passage in humanity's quest for spiritual evolution, and the struggle of the psyche to become whole. None echoes more painfully true in this instance than the abduction of Persephone, the young maiden who wandered away from her mother, Demeter, to pick flowers in the field. Suddenly, the ground opened up, and Hades, Lord of the Underworld, seized her, abducting her in his chariot into his Dark Kingdom. Demeter, who ruled over the harvest, desolate in her pain, refused to tend the earth or to bear fruit, thus threatening the existence of the human race.
Shannon Melendi, too, went to the field one morning when the earth split open.

The 19-year-old Emory University student was last seen taking a lunch recess from her part-time job at the Softball Country Club, where she was keeping score at one of the games. And although there were at least a thousand spectators on the field that day, March 26th of 1994, no one seemed to know what happened approximately at noon on Saturday. With chilling irony, even her score-pad vanished. The account of her disappearance is still unsettled. Now, a mother, a father, a family and a community struggle to become whole, while the failure to find Shannon or her abductor points to a break in the very fiber of society. Once more, a crack opened in the world to let in the Dark Kingdom, and to point towards the perilous state in which humanity finds itself. From the media circus in the Los Angeles County Courthouse through the rubble in Oklahoma City and the tragic events of 9-11, the story of Shannon Melendi travels in painful silence through the wire that runs from the universal to the particular, to cry out for justice in the name of all Persephones. As Luis Melendi says, "It could happen to anybody.” The father has now become the messenger to the Underworld. In Miami, before going off to college in Atlanta, Shannon Melendi seemed the unlikeliest candidate to succumb to the forces of the dark. While Persephone picked flowers in the field, Shannon ploughed it. And she had every intention of reaping what she sowed.

In Miami, at Southwest High School, she burst like a meteor on the campus, shining with an Inner Light. She was president of the Junior and Senior class, a champion orator who was captain of the Debate team for three years; an athlete who was also in the National Honor Society and graduated cum laude in the top 3% of her class; a member of the club Legal Eagles, as an aspiring attorney whose ultimate goal was to sit on the Supreme Court to change the law of the land. She was on her way. Upon graduation from Southwest, she was accepted by Georgetown and American universities. But Emory, in Atlanta, gave her the better option: A $15,000 a year grant for the four years. She would major in Political Science and Spanish, and after completing her degree, she would join the Navy and attend Law School. She planned to retire as a Naval Commander, which would place her in Washington for her next few goals: Politics, and the highest bench in the country. Angel Menendez knew this. He was her political science teacher and soccer coach at Southwest, and the sponsor of the Legal Eagles. During her senior year, Shannon spoke before the United Nations and the US Congress. There was no stopping her, it seemed to him. The teacher admired the student who was also his friend. Menendez wrote this letter for an official, quasi-posthumous occasion. Parts of it read: "In a way Shannon's high school years were a preview of what was to come in her adult life. Standing in Congress as a student representative, addressing the student delegates in the General Assembly Hall of the United Nations, or arguing her case as a student attorney at the Dade Country Mock Trials Competition, all were unique previews of what life lay in store for her. ...Her dreams were instantly and irretrievably halted...dreams not based on fanciful thought or unrealistic expectations, but in fact, the logical conclusion of a lifetime of preparation. ...If a measure of her worth were limited to intellectual pursuit, her accomplishments there alone would merit close attention. If you look at her athletic participation, her versatility and determination would mark her as special. If we could feel her sense of social conscience, moral integrity, and righteous indignation, we would be humbled. However, there is no need to separate the many facets of Shannon Melendi, because she embodies everything that we define as good and honorable, decent and kind, truthful and sincere." In closing, Menendez quotes: "Many are called, few are chosen.” Then he closes: "Shannon chose to answer the call. We ask that you do the same."

The occasion was the naming of Southwest 48th Street, from 87th to 107th Avenue, as Shannon Melendi Drive. The motion was approved unanimously by the Dade-County Commission. On that day, students at Southwest High plastered the area with posters of Shannon.      Few will stop at those streetlights without looking at the name, remembering, and wondering why. The posters were made from the most recent photograph of her taken by her father . The portrait was not part of Luis Melendi's many awards in photography, but Shannon was his life's work. She still is. What does a photographer do with a little girl who carries her own light? He captures her image with his lens, over and over again. Today, the photographs are all he has. The school also retired her soccer jersey, which, appropriately, bore number 19. No one will wear it again.

To Luis Melendi, "She will always be 19.” He is not ashamed to cry. Shannon's favorite song was Forever Young by Alphaville. That is how she will stay in the minds of all who knew her. Not a suicide or an overdose, like the rock singer or the young actor, but taken. By someone, someone she knew. Her parents knew this from the start. Shortly after March 26, the first 10,000 posters and 60 billboards that went up in Atlanta with Shannon's picture said Missing. Not long after that, Luis Melendi changed the sign to Kidnapped. And from the time that the Dekalb County police dismissed their initial theories that Shannon might have wandered away of her own accord, one individual surfaces in the minds of many and in all the reports of the Miami and Atlanta media. Colvin "Butch" Hinton, then an umpire at the Softball Country Club, emerges as the last probable person to have seen Shannon Melendi that day. Hinton was officiating in field # 1, the same as Shannon. When Shannon took her lunch break that day at noon, Hinton, too, left the field. According to police reports, he told the owner of the club the day before that he would have to leave early the next day, because he had a family problem to resolve. According to the investigation, there were no family problems and Hinton was seen later that afternoon back at the parking lot of the country club.
 

Luis and Yvonne Melendi remain reticent to assign the blame. During a recent interview, they agreed, once more, to retrace their daughter's disappearance and open up their hearts. Their heaviness, between the lines, is enough to break your hearts. Nevertheless, the Melendi's have been lambasted for years by the local and national media. They have learned from the best to be camera-ready and recorder- friendly. The "case" has been featured on Oprah, Maury Povich (2x), Inside Edition (2x), America's Most Wanted (5x), Sabado Gigante and on the Jaime Baily Show, a Spanish-language program aired by satellite to every Spanish-speaking country in the world. I had my own questions to ask, though I could easily anticipate the answers. I met the Melendi's by covering the vanishing of Shannon from day one. I went to Conyers, Georgia, with them, where there are reported apparitions of the Virgin; where they went on a pilgrimage. As a journalist, I was supposed to remain dispassionate and objective. As a person, the distancing comes from the absurd notion that this happens to other people. But Yvonne and Luis Melendi readily became my friends. And as I witness their courage, their dignity, their suffering in the face of unspeakable adversity, I wonder.

Will these two dynamic, outstanding people, who married out of love and formed a family with two beautiful daughters, ever be the same? Now they have only one daughter, Monique. Will she be scarred? Will she be able to trust people again? And if so, does she have to pay the price? Is trusting people "asking for it"? The questions I asked of Luis and Yvonne Melendi don't give us the answers to the horror. Rather, they are a testimony to the passage through this earth of their daughter, and stand as a warning that it doesn't just happen to other people. That it could happen to you and me.

"Shannon knew what she wanted," says a still proud mother, adding that by the time she entered the 9th grade, the girl who would become class president, and win a university scholarship realized that the law was where she be-longed. The right side of the law, that is. "But the Supreme Court became a goal when she went to Washington during her Senior year to speak before Congress for the National Congressional Youth Leadership Conference," Yvonne Melendi adds. "She was the only freshman ever hired by the Jimmy Carter Center," boasts Luis Melendi about his precious older daughter. "And Carter was one of the key people to get the investigation rolling.
Senator Bob Graham got the FBI involved within 48 hours, because the Dekalb County police was just sitting, thinking she was a runaway." Luis Melendi contacted ball player Bo Jackson through a church friend, and actor Andy Garcia, who is a friend of the family. Both taped Public Service Announcements, which were aired throughout the nation. Melendi, in turn, edited a video of his daughter from photographs and home-movies, and put it together with Jackson and Garcia's PSA's at the end. The video recaps all the stages of Shannon's growth, from childhood to her First Communion and Sweet Sixteen, to president of her high-school class, with the background song Wind Beneath My Wings, as a radiant young woman, she is seen water-skiing, a dazzling smile on her face. It is a touching remembrance, but where is the blame and the accountability?

What happened to Shannon's score-pad? Steve Daniels, investigative reporter for NBC 6, put together his own video. Daniels, who has since moved on to the Networks, was relentless in his pursuit of Butch Hinton's past, and of anything that might lead to the closure of the Melendi case. Daniels tracked Hinton to Illinois and Kentucky, where he commits his first crime at age 16, assaulting a young woman while working at Mr. D's Pizza in 1977. From Kentucky, the family moves to Neponset, Illinois, where Hinton kidnaps 14-year-old Tammy Singleton, ties her up in his basement, and tries to attack her when his first wife walks in and hears the girl screaming. Daniels also obtained an account of Hinton's attack on a member of his extended family, whom he also abducted and repeatedly assaulted. For the Kentucky attack, since he was a minor, Hinton was let off easy, and ordered to receive counseling. He served only two years for the assault on Singleton. The family case, however, was swept under the rug. In the case of Shannon Melendi, there was a bungled, bumbling investigation. Shannon's roommate first reported finding her car to the Dekalb police, who told her to drive it back to school. The car was left abandoned, with the door open, the alarm off and the keys in the ignition, at a Citgo station, where the attendant of the convenience store at the station reported seeing Shannon that morning. Then the attendant changed her story, not once, but many times, saying she was no longer sure of anything. ABC reporter Rad Berky, who questioned the woman, told us he found her behavior and demeanor most unusual.

A couple of weeks after Shannon's disappearance, an unidentified male voice phoned the hotline to say that he had Shannon. He said she was all right, but that she felt lonely. That to prove it, he would leave one of her rings in the telephone booth. The ring was identified by the family as belonging to Shannon. There was also no recording device at the hotline at Emory University, where the kidnapper called to say that he had Shannon and he left her ring at the phone booth. If that voice had been recorded, we would have had the matter closed in no time at all. But here is yet another major setback: The Softball Country Club works on weekends; the weekend following Shannon's disappearance was Easter weekend, so they let a whole week go by without questioning people. They should have started looking at the employee records first, but they decided to look at everyone who was there, which was about a thousand people. How is it possible that no one knew that someone with a three-time record of kidnapping, assault and rape was working at a place filled with young women and children?

A few months later we find Hinton teaching Sunday school to children at his church. And then we see him working at a McDonald's, where kids go. And then we look at a police report where he assaults a young black woman who worked with him at the McDonald's. What is going on here? The police report that we looked at, from Jonesboro, Georgia, is dated January 27, 1995. It states Hinton attacked a 19-year-old African American woman named Della Lorraine Cogburn at about 8 PM, across from the fast-food restaurant as she walked the dark trail to her home.

Since the last letter that was written to then Attorney General Janet Reno by the 23 members of the South Florida Congressional Delegation, plus Senators Mack and Graham, a task force was formed by the FBI. It has now been disbanded. The Melendi's are still refusing to lay the blame on any state or institution. Luis Melendi says, "I'm not blaming Atlanta for this, I'm not blaming Emory for this. It could happen to anyone, anywhere. And what the Melendi family is trying to do is raise awareness and say: 'It could happen to you.' " Yvonne Melendi believes there is a lot of apathy. "People tend to think something like this only happens to other people; this would never happen to me. Unfortunately it has to happen to you or someone close to you, or an atrocity has to happen like 9/11. When something happens on such a massive scale, people take notice."

The Melendi's are nowhere as well as they seem on this particular evening. As Yvonne said to me one night, "The Luis and Yvonne
Melendi who appear on TV are not the Luis and Yvonne Melendi who live in this house." Behind the veneer of civility and the media savvy, my friends are the walking wounded, and always will be. They are most consoled when people remember Shannon, and almost euphoric when the media pays attention again. In February of 1999, "Hard Copy" aired a segment about the case, which was repeated again in April, following the week of the fifth anniversary of her disappearance. On Thursday, March 25th, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spoke before the House of Representatives on behalf of Shannon.

Meanwhile, Colvin "Butch" Hinton was serving a sentence for insurance and mail fraud, for setting fire to his own house to cover evidence.  Luis Melendi was offering a gift of $10,000 to anyone including the inmates at the Federal Prison in Butner, North Carolina, where Hinton was, for any information leading to the recovery of Shannon's remains, so that a family destroyed can finally get some closure and perhaps justice. Melendi tried to establish The Shannon Melendi Foundation. Its motto: "Keep sexual predators behind bars. Save our children." The Foundation was to be a non-profit organization dedicated to helping the families of young adults, the ones left out from the blue cards and the milk-cartons, the ones whom the law still doesn't protect. As Melendi was quoted in the Halls of Congress, he finds consolation in one heartfelt, driving belief:  "We cannot change what has happened to us, but because of what happened to us, changes can be made."

Yvonne Melendi says that every time she goes by Shannon Melendi Drive she thinks of how much her daughter loved her school, and how she always looked for the good in people. "And she tried to show people that there are not just weeds on the side of the road, that there are flowers that grow in between. And they are really pretty."

Shannon is now among the flowers. As poet Edna St. Vincent Millay says in Dirge Without Music:   "…she has gone to feed the roses."  And in honor of her parents, Luis and Yvonne Melendi, we dedicate the last line of that poem to Shannon: "I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned."

The Melendi family would like to thank everyone for their continued support. If you would like to help them in their quest to keep Hinton in jail, you will find the information in the next column.


It took 12 years... Now, let’s keep him in jail!

Monday, August 30, 2004, Colvin "Butch" Hinton was indicted by a Grand Jury with the murder of Shannon Melendi. The trial began on Monday, August 22, 2005 and ended Monday, September 19th after three days (nine hours) of jury deliberation. The Verdict... GUILTY on malice murder and felony murder! The Sentence... LIFE in prison! BUT with parole!!! Yes, another chance so he can kidnap, rape, and murder again.

He appealed the verdict, but was denied by the Georgia Supreme Court... On July 17, 2006 he confessed how he kidnapped, brutally raped, and murdered Shannon. He said that he burned her body in his back yard and scattered the ashes.

When it is time for Hinton to go before the Parole Board in 2011, they will look at his file. Letters in his file asking to keep him behind bars, and serving his full life sentence for the murder of Shannon Denise Melendi will be looked at during the analysis.

Below is where you need to write and help us keep him off the streets so he may never hurt another family.

All correspondence must reference:
GDC ID#0001201616
(Colvin C. Hinton, III)


You may e mail your thoughts to:
VictimServices@pap.state.ga.us
Please be sure to cc:
letters4shannon@att.net
or click here to e mail petition form

Or you may write:
Victim Services Office
State Board of Pardons - Paroles
2 M.L. King, Jr. Drive, SE
Suite 458, East Tower
Atlanta GA 30334

Should you want any further information on Hinton or the prison go to www.dcor.state.GA.US  under Dept. of Correction Info, choose Georgia Inmate Query  a dialog screen will appear and you will need to press  I agree to the terms as stated under Select Identifier: choose GDC ID Number, in Enter Number:  type in  0001201616 and press Next A picture of Hinton will appear with information on him and the name of the prison.

"If the judge that sentenced Butch Hinton to four years in prison (he only served two) when he kidnapped 14 year old Tammy Singleton (third sexual offence), had given him 15 or 20 years instead... Shannon would be alive today. 

We are supposed to trust our law makers and judges, but some of them are NOT doing their jobs."
 

Luis Melendi

 

 

 

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