Jennifer Bennett, a 27-year-old paralegal, was declared missing by Miami-Dade police on Saturday, a day after her car was found abandoned on the shoulder of the eastbound Palmetto Expressway with her possessions still in it.
Bennett, who grew up in Miami Shores and graduated from St. Rose of Lima and Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas High, was last seen leaving her home in the 600 block of Northeast 179th Terrace at 5 p.m. Thursday to visit a friend. Her purse, cellphone and keys were in the car, which did not start when police attempted to start it because the battery was dead. A pair of her flip-flops were on the car floor of the driver’s side. Three windows of the gray Hyundai Sonata were open when the car was checked by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper at 12:30 p.m. Friday near Northwest 12th Avenue, in front of a Mercedes-Benz dealership.
“The seats were dry, which tells me the car could not have been sitting there for too long,” Miami-Dade Detective Alberto Roque said. “A canine picked up a trail off the road, which didn’t lead us anywhere but gave us hope she was able to move out of the car.”
Roque said he had no new leads on Saturday after conducting numerous interviews. When asked about the possibility that someone pulled over to offer aid while Bennett was standing by her disabled car and picked her up, Roque said that could be one scenario.
Bennett’s friends and relatives were posting fliers and canvassing the area.
“We are devastated and heartbroken,” said Christina Miceli, Bennett’s former classmate and best friend for 20 years. “We hope that someone has seen her. She is an outgoing, funny, honest and very generous person always willing to help others.”
Bennett, described as 5-6, 200 pounds, with medium-length brown hair and tattoos on her upper arms, was wearing a sleeveless gray top and black jeans. Her last communication was a text she sent at 8:48 p.m. Thursday.
She is the daughter of the late Miami-Dade police officer Lawrence Bennett, who died in 2013. She had moved back home last year from her job with a Knoxville, Tennessee, law firm to take care of her ailing mother, Susan, who died in 2015 from breast cancer.
Bennett was excited about resuming her paralegal job on Wednesday by working remotely, and was planning to move to the firm’s Jacksonville office Sept. 1.
“We went out with a bunch of friends last weekend and were laughing and having fun,” Miceli said. “I didn’t notice anything wrong or out of the ordinary.”
She was to be the maid of honor at her friend Christina Mozzott’s wedding July 23.
“She helped plan my bridal shower and bachelorette cruise and we recently went to Jacksonville to look at houses for her to rent, so everything was going well,” said Mozzott, a high school classmate and college roommate. “This whole thing is so strange. Her car is found on a highway with her phone, which she would never leave behind. We are going crazy and hoping she’s safe.”
Bennett took her uncle to breakfast Thursday morning and took her grandmother to a doctor’s appointment Thursday afternoon. Then she told her aunt she was going to see a man she was dating who had recently broken his ankle, but on the way there he told her not to come because he was feeling ill and going to sleep. She texted him later that evening asking him to call. When he woke up and responded at about 1 a.m. She did not reply.
“Jennifer was stressed out because her parents had died with no wills, and she was an only child left with their house and the responsibility of dealing with probate court and taking care of her grandmother,” said Roberta DiPietro, a close friend of the family and Bennett’s former Girl Scout troop leader. “But she was looking forward to her new job and the wedding. She’s very smart and sweet. We just want her back home.”
Bennett was known to be an occasional recreational user of MDMA, a stimulant and psychedelic commonly known as ecstasy, a party drug. Investigators don’t know whether the drug use has any connection to her disappearance.
Bennett played water polo in high school. She enjoyed swimming, going to the beach and attending Miami Marlins baseball games — an allegiance she developed when her father used to take her to the ballpark.
Investigators are trying to piece together what happened between Thursday night and Friday afternoon. She would have been driving in the direction toward home.
Anyone with information about Bennett’s disappearance should contact Detective Roque or any detective at the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Special Victims Bureau/Missing Persons Squad at 305-418-7200, or Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS (8477).