A 12-hour drive gives you a lot of time to think about things.
For William "Billy" Giddings, the drive from North Laurel to Macon, Ga., was too much time to think about his daughter Lauren's disappearance.
Giddings left at 8 a.m. on June 30, the day Macon police began to swarm the area around 27-year-old Lauren's apartment in a frantic missing-person search that marked the beginning of a gruesome murder investigation that has no end in sight.
At around 10:30 a.m., Giddings was approaching Richmond when he got a call from Macon police. A female body had been discovered in a trash can outside his daughter's apartment complex.
By the time Billy Giddings arrived in Macon and sat down to speak with police at 9:30 p.m., it was clear that something terrible had occurred. Police did not want him to identify his daughter. After two hours of "beating around the bush," as Giddings called it, Macon Police Chief Mike Burns cleared the room and spoke softly to the 56-year-old father of three.
The body was dismembered, Burns told Giddings, and only the torso had been discovered outside the apartment complex.
Fourteen days later, police have identified the torso as belonging to Lauren Giddings but are still searching for more remains, and though they have identified a "person of interest" — Stephen Mark McDaniel, a 25-year-old law student who lived in the apartment next to Giddings' and is in jail on an unrelated burglary charge — no one has been arrested in the case.
"I'm not sure anybody knows all the answers, even in Macon," said Billy Giddings, who owns Giddings' Haulings, a North Laurel company that specializes in construction and debris clean-up. "We don't know what happened, but with what I do know, my imagination runs away from me."
As police continue their investigation, Billy Giddings and his wife, Karen, make a conscious decision each day to remember their daughter for the caring, fun-loving and ambitious woman she was.
The couple, along with their two other daughters, talked of Lauren during an interview July 12 in their North Laurel home.
Just two weeks before June 25 — the last day she was seen — Lauren spent hours meticulously baking cupcakes for her sister Kaitlyn Wheeler's wedding shower.
"She insisted on making homemade sunflower cupcakes" in honor of her sister's favorite flower, Karen Giddings said while she laughed at the memory. "She made 50 of them."
Lauren spent much of the month of June at home in North Laurel, intermittently studying for the Georgia bar exam, planning her sister's bachelorette party and wedding shower, and acting as maid of honor in the June 17 wedding.
Karen Giddings said her daughter was a gifted planner and organizer and had a knack for bringing people together.
Lauren, who graduated from Mercer University's Walter F. George School of Law on May 14, would organize monthly "family dinners" for third-year law students.
In a card signed by Mercer law students and given to the Giddings' family, one student wrote, "Lauren, you were the glue that held us all together."
Macon Police spokeswoman Jami Gaudet said police have interviewed dozens of Lauren's friends and acquaintances during the investigation.
"She was a girl that was very involved," Gaudet said. "She was very involved at her law school, at her church, in her community, and she cast a wide net. She had many friends."
Sarah Giddings, Lauren's youngest sister, said Lauren's confidence was contagious.
"On the flight over from Georgia I realized where I got (my confidence) from," she said. "I get it from Lauren because she was so confident."
Karen Giddings said her daughter liked to befriend the shy and was unfailingly kind. Lauren's love for people, her mother said, fueled her desire to be a criminal defense attorney. In her third year at Mercer, Giddings interned at the Bibb County Public Defender's office.
"She really seemed to take to it and put a lot of time and effort in even the smallest of cases," Billy Giddings recalled. "She just liked helping people..."
"That couldn't help themselves," interjected Karen Giddings.
Lauren's ambitions were aided by an unwavering work ethic that propelled her through law school, her family said. Karen Giddings said her daughter studied constantly.
"She was always geared towards education," she said. "She put a lot of pressure on herself."
Lauren attended St. Mary of the Mills School in Laurel until the eighth grade, and graduated from Atholton High School in Columbia in 2002. She went on to Agnes Scott College, near Atlanta, where she majored in political science and minored in religious studies.
In college, Giddings played softball and worked as a waitress, all the while maintaining a high GPA to maintain academic scholarships.
"She worked hard. She worked her way. Nothing was given to her," her mother said, calling her the over-achiever of the family.
Lauren was also deeply religious. At home, she attended St. Mary of the Mills with her parents, and in Macon, she attended Mass regularly.
When her parents went to pack her apartment in Macon, they found a prayer that Lauren had written and set near her Bible. "All my hopes are in thee," Lauren wrote.
Wheeler said the loss of her sister is a fresh pain each day.
On her cell phone, both of her sisters shared a special ring tone. When she heard it recently, Wheeler "automatically picked it up to talk to Lauren," only to remember Lauren's slaying.
"She was one of my best friends," Wheeler said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun