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Donna left her family's residence in Lexington, North Carolina on March 18, 1981 at approximately 8:30 p.m. She was planning to walk to a friend's home nearby. She was last seen walking on Hemstead Street. Donna contacted her friend shortly thereafter, but she never arrived at the house and has not been heard from again.
Donna's older sister, Anita Barnhill, died in February 1966 at the age of two. Her family said she had fallen out of a high chair and hit her head, and her death was ruled an accident. In 1999, a reporter looking into Donna's disappearance became suspicious about Anita's death and urged police to reopen the investigation. Authorities reclassified Anita's death as a homicide by child abuse. No one has been charged in connection with the child's murder, however. Police stated the investigation into Anita's death does not change Donna's missing persons case. They did search her former residence with ground-penetrating radar in 2009, but nothing was found there.
Both of Donna's parents are dead, but three of her siblings still live in the local area. Foul play is possible in her case. It remains unsolved.