Why Alissa Turney’s life matters

Brooke J. Freundschuh

Who was Alissa Turney? Alissa Turney was a seventeen year old girl who lived in Phoenix, Arizona. She had not had the easiest life. Her biological father had not been in the picture since she was a toddler, and after her mother died of cancer, she was left with her adoptive stepfather, Michael Turney and her younger sister Sarah.

At surface level, Alissa was a normal teenage girl. She had many friends and a boyfriend. She was ready to turn 18 and graduate from high school. She had a job at a fast food restaurant. However, only those closest to her knew the truth: Alissa’s life was anything but normal.

Her step-dad, Michael Turney, made life very difficult for her. He treated her and her sister completely differently. Sarah, his biological daughter, had practically no rules or supervision. Things were completely opposite for Alissa, who had no privacy.

Michael used hidden surveillance cameras to watch Alissa at all times. He recorded all of her phone calls and went through her personal belongings. He spoke to her in a very demeaning way, often calling her stupid. Worst of all, he sexually assaulted her for most of her life.

May 17, 2001 was the last day of Alissa’s junior year of high school. Even though it was already a half day, Mike picked Alissa up early. He claims they went to lunch and got into a fight about Alissa’s privileges for the summer. He dropped her off at home to cool down.

When he picked Sarah up after school, he was panicking and telling her to call Alissa, stating that he thought something terrible had happened to her. When Mike and Sarah returned home, Sarah entered the house, finding Alissa’s phone ringing on her dresser, her belongings spilled out on the floor, and a note. The note stated that she had decided to spend the summer in California. There had been talk of She blamed Sarah for her running away and said she had been saving her money to leave.

This note raises many questions. Why would she not mention the recent argument with her dad? All $1,800 of her savings were left in her account. She did not take a single personal belonging with her. Worst of all, she never showed up in California. However, Mike claims that a week after she left, she called him from a payphone in California and told him to leave her alone.

There was no search for Alissa the night she left, or ever. She was not even considered a real missing person. Michael was frantic to his family, telling them he thought Alissa was in great danger, but he told the police he knew she was fine and that she was with her aunt in California.

Over the years, no one heard a word from Alissa, and more harsh truths about Michael Turney came out. In 2008, he was arrested for making and possessing illegal weapons and pipe bombs, which he planned to use in a domestic terrorist attack against his former workplace. It was not until then that he was suspected of foul play in Alissa’s disappearance.

It was not until this time that the family knew he had taken her out of school early that day. Over 20 people that Alissa knew gave statements to the police about him sexually abusing her. Disturbing things were found in the house, including behavioral contracts that he made her sign. One of them stating “I have not been molested by my father, Michael Turney.” This proved that he could make her write things, including the faulty runaway note.

The investigators raised one major question that held the fate of the entire case: if Michael Turney constantly surveilled his home and recorded all of his phone calls, where was the tape from the day Alissa went missing and the recording from the day she allegedly called from California?

Michael has answered this question in several ways, including that the recording systems were broken or off those days and that he taped over them because he saw nothing of value on them.

The Phoenix police told Sarah that they knew Mike had killed Alissa and that when he got out of prison for the weapons charges that he would be arrested. In 2017, he was released. No arrest was made. Since 2017, the police have provided no assistance in looking for a body or investigating the case at all. They told Sarah that her best bet to get justice for her sister was to get media exposure to the case and create a “public pressure” on the state to take the case.

That is exactly what Sarah does every single day, and I am fortunate enough to be able to help her. She has dedicated her life to obtaining justice for Alissa, while still working a full time job. She is the strongest person I know.

In the age of true crime content taking over Netflix, the #MeToo movement, and police controversy, Alissa’s case is more relevant than ever. Despite your beliefs as to whether he killed her or not, the truth stands: a 17 year old girl went missing over 18 years ago and the accepted narrative of what happened to her was fabricated entirely by someone who went to prison for planning a domestic terrorist attack. This man is free on the streets today.

You can help, simply by sharing Alissa’s story. There is currently an extremely important petition to the White House that you can sign online. The fight is not over.

When I asked Sarah Turney what she had to say about helping Alissa’s case, she stated, “It’s more important than ever to share Alissa’s story. There is a grave injustice in this case. There is no doubt in our family about who is responsible for our sister’s disappearance. We just need enough people screaming for this case to be heard by the state.” For more information, visit justiceforalissa.com