The inside of a midsize storage unit in Prince George’s County, Maryland, is stacked, floor to ceiling, with the belongings that tell the story of Unique Harris’ life interrupted. Small, dainty pieces of her jewelry. Framed pictures and family photo albums. Her favorite jacket, clothes, and personal toiletries. They’re bagged and boxed, shielded from dust and potential damage, but it’s a sensory experience for her mother, Valencia, to see, touch, even smell her daughter’s valuables. For a few moments, she holds the nozzle of a half-full bottle of perfume to her nose and inhales the fragrance. Its familiarity almost instantly invokes a wave of sorrow. “It’s Unique’s favorite,” she said, crying silently. “It smells like her.”
It’s been 10 years since Harris has seen the eldest of her three children, 10 years of not hearing her laugh, wrapping her in a hug, or talking to her on the phone. On October 9, 2010, Unique, then 24, disappeared from her southeast Washington, D.C., apartment at The Courts on Harford Street somewhere between 3 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Her eight-year-old niece and her two sons, just three and five, were sleeping in the living room, her purse with her debit card and ID inside was where she usually kept it and there were no signs of forced entry around the doorway. The only items missing were her cellphone and keys but most troubling was what was left behind — Unique’s eyeglasses. Her mother says she was extremely nearsighted and never went anywhere without them.
“I knew there was a problem when my dad found them on her pillow,” Harris remembered. “They’re a pair of Dolce and Gabbana glasses that my daughter had saved up for months to get. She was so happy when she got them, she called me and told me about them, and sent me a picture of her with them on. So I still have her purse and I still have her glasses.”