This is not the way Caroline Gibson's friends and family had hoped the search for her would end.
A passerby on Wednesday found a body believed to be Gibson in her car in a parking garage at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport.
Gibson was reported missing nearly two weeks ago by her parents, Norm and Trudy Fowler, with whom she lived in Sun City Hilton Head.
"Caroline deserved more than this," said Erika Pyle, a former co-worker at the Belk on Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort. "I miss her dearly and only wish I could hug her once more."
Pyle said Gibson was kind and affectionate and loved to chat and offer encouragement "on good and bad days."
Gibson, her family said, had lately had more than her share of bad days.
Norm Fowler, Gibson's stepfather, said Thursday that Gibson had not been herself for the past four months, a result, he believes, of the medication she was taking for bipolar disorder, which she was diagnosed with about 15 years ago. A talented tennis player who was well-liked by the Sun City community after she moved in five years ago, Gibson more recently had become withdrawn, he said.
That's why the couple called the police shortly after Gibson left home in her red two-door Toyota Yaris. She had only $29 and a Visa card.
Deputies believed she was heading to her job but found no evidence that she went there. Gibson had been on sick leave from the store, Norm Fowler said.
"She looked forward to going to work," he said. "She had a lot of female friends up there who have been calling continually and asking how she is."
Subsequent searches by ground, water and air in Beaufort and Jasper counties yielded no trace of her, the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said.
A person who parked at the airport beside Gibson's car Wednesday reported the body. Gibson's identification was on the body, and the clothing matched what she was wearing when she disappeared.
Her car had been parked at the airport since April 27, a day after she was reported missing, Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Gena Sullivan said Wednesday.
That has some of her friends asking why it took so long to find her, and they question the communication between South Carolina and Georgia authorities.
Pyle wonders why police didn't check the airport parking lot, just 38 minutes from Gibson's home.
"I understand that Caroline vanished without a trace, and she being an adult it can be frustrating for an officer," Pyle said. "But it seems to me, a regular citizen, that one of the first places I would look, after a person's most frequent hangout spots, would be the parking lots of major transportation areas."
Sgt. Robin McIntosh of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said investigators had no indication Gibson had the means or intention of flying anywhere, based on the resources she had and the "intimate details regarding her history."
That made the airport an unlikely search location, McIntosh said.
Gibson's missing-person status was issued to law enforcement agencies nationwide, and any measures those agencies employed in assisting with the search were at their own discretion, McIntosh said.
The investigation of the death scene and vehicle is under Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police supervision. Autopsy results from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations' crime lab are pending, and there is no evidence from the crime scene suggesting foul play, Savannah police spokeswoman Sullivan said.
Staff reporter Casey Conley contributed to this report.
- Missing woman's car found at Savannah airport; body inside, May 9, 2012
- Sheriff's Office: No trace of missing Sun City woman, May 1, 2012
- Deputies searching for missing Sun City woman, April 28, 2012