"I have been through hell in the years since she has been gone," Theresa Lewis told AOL News. "My daughter vanished out of thin air and nobody knows anything. All I want is closure. I need to know what happened to my daughter."
Two-year-old Teekah Lewis was last seen at about 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, 1999. Lewis said she had taken her daughter with her to New Frontier Lanes on South Center Street in Tacoma. There, Lewis, along with some family and friends, rented lanes 7 and 8 in the 32-lane bowling complex.
"I turned around for a second and Teekah was gone," Lewis said. "There was no sign of her."
Family and friends launched an immediate search for the 3-foot-tall, brown-eyed, pony-tailed girl who was dressed in a green Tweety Bird sweatshirt, but were unable to locate any sign of her. Frantic, they notified an off-duty police officer who was working at the bowling lanes, and he made the announcement that a child was missing over the facility's public-address system. Fearful someone might sneak away with Teekah, her uncles ran outside and began looking into all of the cars.
"Teekah would not have gone to a stranger. She was a mama's girl," Lewis said. "She only trusted her mama, her sisters and her baby sitter. She would not have gone near strangers. Whoever took her had to know what they were doing because they could not have got away with her without her screaming."
Within 20 minutes, the bowling alley's parking lot was swarming with about two dozen police officers. Within the hour, roughly 200 searchers and nearly a dozen trained tracking dogs were spreading out around the building and into surrounding neighborhoods.
While the search went on outside, investigators began to question everyone they could find who was inside the building when Teekah vanished.
A boy who had been inside the bowling alley said he saw two men hanging around the arcade area, and one appeared to be following Teekah around. Police were unable to determine who the men were or whether or not they were involved.
Similarly, a witness outside the bowling alley reported seeing a late 1980s or early '90s maroon car, possibly a Pontiac Grand Am, speed out of the parking lot at the time of Teekah's disappearance. Despite a massive search that included the state's motor vehicle database, authorities were unable to determine who owned the vehicle and if it had anything to do with the case.
Detectives with the Tacoma Police Department were joined by more than two dozen FBI agents, investigators from the Pierce County Sheriff's Department and officials with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Together, they went door to door and questioned 41 sex offenders who lived within a mile of the bowling alley. A tip line was also set up and a $20,000 reward was offered.
Lewis, a mother of five, was 27 years old at the time her daughter disappeared. Teekah's father was serving a four-year prison term at the time and was not considered a person of interest in the case. Police did not believe that the little girl wandered off on her own.
As is standard in any investigation, detectives administered a lie detector test to Lewis and some other individuals who were at the bowling alley. The mother voluntarily took two polygraph tests and was cleared as a suspect, police said.
In an effort to bring in new leads, Teekah's story was featured on the television shows "America's Most Wanted" and "The Montel Williams Show." Tips came in on both occasions but none resulted in the little girl's discovery.
In April 1999, "the Teekah Lewis Bill" was passed in Washington. It allowed the Washington State Patrol, upon request, to assist local law enforcement agencies in cases involving missing or exploited children.
The number of tips eventually dwindled. Investigators had no suspects, no people of interest and no leads to follow. Teekah had, for all intents and purposes, vanished.
"Part of the problem with this when it happened was there [were] no eyewitnesses and no crime scene," Tacoma police Detective Gretchen Aguirre told AOL News. "There wasn't a lot to go on. ... The Amber Alert was not in existence, and a lot of the tools you have today were not available then."
The case remained cold until summer 2007, when investigators were briefly excited by a potential suspect named Terapon Dang Adhahn. The 42-year-old Tacoma construction worker and convicted sex offender had been arrested in the murder of 12-year-old Zina Linnik and was looked at in the abduction and murder of Amber Alert namesake Amber Hagerman, as well as several other unsolved cases involving children.
Anxious to avoid a possible death sentence, Adhahn ultimately entered into a plea deal with prosecutors. In exchange for a guilty plea in Zina's case, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. To date, he has not been charged in connection with any other homicide cases.
"At this point there's no information that he would be related to [Teekah's case]," Aguirre said.
Lewis does not believe Adhahn had anything to do with her daughter's disappearance and said she still feels her daughter is alive today. She suspects Teekah could be in Florida and thinks a former acquaintance could have snatched the little girl.
"Prior to Teekah's disappearance, [this individual's] mother asked me if she could have her," Lewis said. "She did not have a girl. I told her no way, she is my daughter. Then, Teekah comes up missing. I've not heard from him since March 1999. Never once has he got in touch with me in the last 12 years to check on things."
Aguirre said that in 2009 investigators had "a person of interest in Florida" and went there to speak with that individual. She did not elaborate on what, if anything, was learned.
"The [case] file itself is huge," Aguirre said. "The case has always been active as far as being assigned to a detective. Over the years they've received pretty regular tips. ... We've never given up on it and have always monitored anything that we get on it."
The New Frontier Lanes bowling alley has long since been demolished and is now the parking lot of a restaurant. Nevertheless, Teekah's family has gathered there for a vigil every year since she was taken.
Regardless of where her daughter is today, Lewis said she remains hopeful. She also said cases like that of Carlina White help keep her spirits up.
White was just 3 weeks old when she was kidnapped from a New York City Hospital. Now 23 years old, she was recently reunited with her parents after she found a photo of herself on a missing-children website.
"I won't give up on my daughter. I know she is out there and someone is taking care of her, it's just the wrong family," Lewis said. "I believe our case can be solved just like the [White] case."
Both Lewis and Aguirre said they are excited that Teekah's case will receive national media exposure again later this week.
HLN's Nancy Grace will cover the girl's disappearance on her new show, "Nancy Grace: America's Missing." The show debuted last month and has a goal of "finding 50 people in 50 days." The episode featuring Teekah is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. EST Friday.
Lewis, who maintains both a website and Facebook page devoted to the case, said she has her own message for the person responsible:
"It's time to bring her home," she said. "I want her home. Her sisters want her home. Yes, you took 12 years of my life, but I can forgive you for that. All I want is my daughter home. I don't care if you drop her off or what you do. I just want her back. She was special to me. You took a part of my heart that I can't repair until I get her back."