Vigil held as search for missing Greenbelt teacher continues

Still holding out hope that a missing Maryland teacher might be found, the Greenbelt, Maryland, community gathered Friday night to rally around each other in honor of 60-year-old Mariame Toure.

Toure, who also goes by the name of Mariame Sylla — or “Madame Sylla” as she’s known by students — is a third grade teacher at the Dora Kennedy French Immersion School in Greenbelt.

Saturday marks one week since she mysteriously disappeared.

“It’s going to be a burden that all of us carry until she is back home,” said Teria Cason, a parent who has had children enrolled at the French Immersion School for 10 years running. “The hardest part is not having closure, not knowing.”

“I prayed I would never know someone on a missing person poster, but now it’s my reality,” she told WTOP.

Police said Toure, who took regular walks in Prince George’s County’s Schrom Hills Park, went for a stroll last Saturday. Greenbelt Police Chief Rick Bowers, who spoke at Friday’s vigil, said their investigation showed her regular walks would be anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, ending before sunset.

<p>A missing person flier at a rally in honor of 60-year-old French teacher Mariam Toure Sylla. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)</p>
A missing person flier with many pictures of 60-year-old French teacher Mariam Toure Sylla. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)
Community members hold missing person fliers and candles at a rally in honor of 60-year-old French teacher Mariame Toure Sylla.     (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)
A large group of community members gathered as the search for a missing teacher continues in Greenbelt. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)
Attendees bow their heads at a vigil in honor of 60-year-old French teacher Mariame Toure Sylla. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)
A speaker at the prayer event on Aug. 4, 2023. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)
A week after she went missing, family and friends of Mariame Toure are continuing to search for the missing french teacher. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)
A sign advertising the candlelit vigil for 60-year-old French teacher Mariame Toure Sylla. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)
The Greenbelt, Maryland, community gathered Friday night to rally in honor of 60-year-old French teacher Mariame Toure Sylla. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)
<p>A missing person flier at a rally in honor of 60-year-old French teacher Mariam Toure Sylla. (WTOP/Matt Kaufax)</p>

Toure didn’t make it home that night.

With little family in the area, police and community members said that the main reason people who knew Toure thought she might be missing was because she didn’t show up for evening prayer.

“We keep all of our possibilities open as to the cause of her disappearance, but at this time we are continuing to treat this as a missing persons investigation,” Bowers told the assembled group Friday evening. “[We] will do everything in our power to get her home to her family and friends.”

“We want her home as safely as soon as possible. I mean, we wanted her home yesterday,” said Latanza Wilson, another Dora Kennedy parent.

“We are just trying to be there for her as if she is our sister, mother or daughter — our best friend,” she said.

Wilson said the purpose of Friday’s vigil was multifaceted.

“We’re trying to get as much info as possible out on social media so that tips might start to come in,” she said.

At Friday’s event, which was attended by around 100 people, families lit candles and spoke fondly about Madame Sylla.

Everyone who showed up took stacks of flyers and put them up around the area, canvassing the park, surrounding community and neighborhoods while asking around for information.

“She has really given us a lot,” Wilson said when asked to articulate just how much Toure means to her and the community.

“We are desperate. We were out at the Safeway yesterday, some of us parents. I had my son out at the Safeway as well,” she said.

Wilson said the whole thing is so bizarre. She has trouble believing Toure is missing at times and told WTOP this whole incident seems to have come out of the blue.

“Honestly,” she said, “I don’t know how else to explain it other than, ‘It’s complete shock.'”

“I want to get her back really bad. She is one of the best teachers I ever knew,” said Ashton, a rising fourth grader who was taught by Toure in third grade.

“She was really kind to all of us,” Ashton told WTOP. “She is very precious to me, and all of my friends.”

Chief Rick Bowers said city police plan to update the public as soon as they know more. In the meantime, the department — and the community at large — are urging anyone who might have information about Toure’s disappearance to come forward.

“We’ve distributed several different pictures of her,” Wilson said. “With her hair down, up, and presenting herself in different ways. If you see someone out in the community who might look like her, she will answer to ‘Madame Sylla’ if you call out.”

Wilson also said there’s a QR code on every flyer that they’re putting up and handing out. She said scanning that code with your phone will take you directly to the official Greenbelt Police post about her disappearance. She’s urging residents in the area to spread the word.

“She could still be in the area, she could be somewhere else, we don’t know,” Wilson said. “But the more people we have looking for her, the more likely it might be we find something.”

“I feel sad, and I really hope she is still out there,” Ashton added.

Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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