10/20/74 - 3/26/94
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
Shannon Melendi, too, went to the field one morning when the earth split
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.
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
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
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
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:
(Colvin C. Hinton, III)
You may e mail your thoughts to:
Please be sure to cc:
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
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."
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