The last time Sherry Tyler heard from her granddaughter, Danielle Tyler of Taneytown, was April 6.
“The last conversation we had was by text,” Sherry said. “I can’t go a couple of days without talking to her or I get worried.”
Danielle had broken up with a boyfriend of two years sometime in March, Sherry said, and her last text read, “MeMaw, I think I am going to turn my phone off for a little bit. I’m not sure, I am just tired of all the drama.”
“I assumed it was her and her ex back and forth on the phone,” Sherry added.
She’s no longer so sure.
It wasn’t long after that text exchange that Maryland State Police homicide detectives called on Sherry, looking for Danielle and encouraging her to file a missing persons report, which she did. Soon she found out another young woman was missing: Heather Grogg of Westminster.
Now Sherry fears the worst — that this is more than just a missing person’s case. Comments from Maryland State Police spokesperson Greg Shipley do not dispel that worry.
“Since the initial missing person reports were taken by the Maryland State Police, Danielle Tyler and Heather Grogg have been considered to be critically missing and in danger,” he wrote in an email. “We cannot be more specific about why we believe this, due to the impact the release of investigative information at this time could have on ongoing investigations.”
A new crowd
Danielle had been living with Sherry, her legal guardian, but had recently turned 18 years old and had been spending more time away with friends. Still, Sherry said, after her breakup with her boyfriend in March, Danielle began hanging out — and staying away from her home with Sherry — with a new crowd that concerned her.
“Before this, I knew all her friends. I knew where she was, she told me where she was going,” Sherry said. “She was always home by curfew. None of this makes any sense.”
Friends and friends of friends of Danielle’s have helped fill in the picture for Sherry the best they could since her disappearance. Sherry came to learn Danielle had been staying at a home in Westminster, and was hanging out with a man who might have been her new boyfriend. It’s admittedly second- and third-hand knowledge, and Sherry might not have heard any of it if some of the people involved hadn’t sprung prominently, and disturbingly, into the news.
David Sanford and Monroe Merrell, both of Westminster, along with John Black III of Taneytown, have all been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in West Virginia in connection with the death of Jonathan Riddle, a Taneytown man whose body was found on fire on March 18 in Rippon, West Virginia. All three have been arrested and are being held — Sanford and Black in West Virginia, Merrell in Virginia Beach, Virginia — without bond.
Investigators believe Riddle went on the night of March 17 to meet with a woman at Sanford’s Westminster home, where a fight allegedly broke out between Riddle and Merrell, then Merrell restrained Riddle and told Sanford to stab him. Black allegedly stabbed Riddle as well and helped Sanford and Merrell transport Riddle to West Virginia, where it is believed they stabbed him until dead and lit his body on fire.
Sherry now believes it was Sanford’s house that Danielle had been staying at in Westminster.
“I found out this Dave Sanford was arrested,” she said. “Then heard that her and Monroe were staying there off and on, the couple of days she was not here.”
Black was known to Sherry as a friend of Danielle’s from before her breakup.
“Johnny was never that type of a person, but then he started hanging out down there because she was there,” she said.
Merrell, though, was a new factor, and one with a history, having been released from prison in January after serving time on a kidnapping charge from 2016.
“He got out in January, and he meets my granddaughter fresh out of a breakup and I think he fed her everything a kid needed to hear out of a breakup,” Sherry said. “He just reeled her right in.”
Merrell had been sentenced in 2017 to 20 years, with all but five years suspended, and had been abiding by terms of his probation, according to Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson Mark Vernarelli.
“His sentence was backdated to 8/22/16. He was released on mandatory supervision on 1/17/20,” Vernarelli wrote in an email. “He reported to his Parole and Probation agent as court-ordered and was compliant in his supervision. He last spoke to his agent on March 11.”
Where does Grogg, the second missing woman, fit in?
According to her sister, Brandie Hebb, Grogg had been a live-in babysitter for Sanford for about three months prior to Riddle’s death.
Hebb, who initially spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals but later went on the record, said she never had any concerns about her sister living at Sanford’s home: “They were safe people in my eyes.”
Sanford is the godfather of Hebb’s daughter.
The only time she heard her sister complain about the living situation was when Sanford and his girlfriend would leave for several hours at a time. Grogg mentioned they went to West Virginia a few times, Hebb said.
According to Hebb, the woman who investigators said Riddle had come to Sanford’s to meet on March 17 was Grogg. She and Riddle were friends, Hebb said.
Hebb came across Riddle’s obituary one day and sent it to her sister.
“She seemed like she knew nothing about it,” Hebb said.
She last spoke to her sister on the phone April 4. Their mother reported Grogg missing April 6.
“I’m thinking in my head she witnessed something and she’s in trouble,” Hebb said. “It’s highly unlike her not to speak with anyone and drop off the face of the Earth.”
That’s Sherry’s fear as well.
“I am afraid that maybe she saw something, these girls saw something,” she said. “Now what I found out they did to this man, I am scared to death.”
Sherry understands the fear motivating the source who spoke about Grogg to ask for anonymity, given Merrell’s past.
But given the statement from the state police about both Danielle and Grogg, coupled with the fact that homicide investigators have been speaking with her, Sherry is hoping that someone, somewhere will have some real information that will lead to her granddaughter being located safe and sound.
“She has never missed a holiday, she and I talking,” Sherry said, becoming emotional. “On Easter I sat with the phone in my hand all day long, praying she’d call me. This is not like her.”
Anyone with any information that could help is encouraged to call the Maryland State Police Westminster Barrack at 410-386-3000.
“I posted on her Facebook, ‘Danielle just call me, I will come get you wherever you are. I don’t care, just call me, I love you,’ ” Sherry said. “I am desperate. I need her found. I need her brought home.”