Most roads scared Liz Stonger.
The Gaston County single mother missing since Oct. 14 didnt like to drive especially on interstates and seldom ventured far from home.
The trip she took most often was to Belmonts Walmart, where she worked as a cashier. Getting there took about 10 minutes on I-85, but Stonger stuck to side roads even though it was longer.
Three weeks ago, she hit the road at lunchtime and vanished.
Friends describe Stonger, 27, as a devoted mother who needed the Walmart job to support herself and 2-year-old son. It makes no sense to them that shed walk away from both without a word. Since she left, there have been no phone calls, text messages, Facebook messages, emails or bank transactions.
I dont see her running off and leaving her son behind, said her sister, Amy Stonger, 29, of Gastonia. Were a close-knit family. Shes a good person. She spent all her energy on her job and her kid.
On Oct. 14, Liz Stonger clocked out on lunch break at Walmart around 1:15 p.m.
According to Belmont Police, a store video shows Liz Stonger waving at people in the parking lot before she got into her 1998 Chevrolet Lumina and drove away.
Thats the last known sighting. Authorities determined the last signal from Stongers cellphone came from the McDowell County/Marion area around 11 p.m. that same day.
Lt. Basil Marett with Belmont Police Department said the cellphone hasnt been used since, nor has Stongers bank card.
He said authorities are doing a forensic review of Stongers computer and also working with law enforcement agencies in the Blue Ridge Mountains to find the vehicle.
Police have reports from people in McDowell County who thought they might have spotted Stonger.
Weve talked to them, Marett said. But theres no way to verify anything. Our hope is that she became upset and said Hey, I want some time away. Our goal, if she doesnt want to come back, is just to know shes safe and OK.
Stonger, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., moved to Gaston County with her family about 10 years ago. Amy Stonger said her sister majored in geology at UNC Charlotte but had to drop out after she became pregnant. Liz Stonger lived with her mother, Deb Grover, in the town of Lowell.
Things had been tough in the household. Amy Stonger said her mom, a graduate of Syracuse University, worked in IT projects management, but jobs had come and gone.
Grover hasnt worked in a long time and now faces foreclosure. That possibility weighed on her sister, Stonger said.
Liz Stonger knew she could move in with her sister but would still consider herself homeless.
Life was hard, Amy Stonger said. She was a single mom who couldnt afford much. She was a homebody who didnt go out. She had a few acquaintances, but not any friends.
Stonger cant see her sister suddenly deciding to run away from it all. As far as she knows, her sister had no connections in western North Carolina and knew little about the area.
Liz Stongers fear of driving would have intensified on unfamiliar mountain roads, her sister feels.
Liz Stonger apparently didnt pack anything leaving only with the clothes she wore to work.
The disappearance is as baffling to Liz Stongers co-workers as it is to family members.
Walmart cashier Kyesha Gaffney spoke with Stonger at work on the morning of Oct. 14. She seemed fine to me, said Gaffney, 26, of Belmont. But you never know. She never told her personal business.
In the year or so Stonger had worked at Walmart, she was nice to me, Gaffney said. She was a caring person, a sociable, kind-hearted person.
Stongers disappearance is kind of scary, Gaffney said. I dont understand what happened. I hope shes OK.
On Saturdays, Amy Stronger, a student at UNC Charlotte, goes to McDowell County to hand out fliers about her missing sister.
As she does, she thinks of the 2-year-old son, who often asks about his mother.
We change the subject, Stronger said. We say, She had to go away for a while. I feel horrible for him.
Family members hold on to hope shes coming home, Stronger said. Youve got to hold on to hope. We just want to know something.