It was Oct. 12, 2007.
Twenty months after being sent to active duty in Iraq, the 36 members of a Tupelo Air National Guard unit had just been welcomed back home.
Schools were holding homecomings and kids were picking out costumes for Halloween.
The temperature was in the sixties, it had been dry and just a little breezy.
Damakia Phinizee, 25 at the time, stepped outside wearing jean capri pants, a tan shirt with red around the collar and cuffs and climbed into her 2005 red Pontiac Grand Am. Her three children were at school.
About noon, she dropped off a coworker at the Fillmore Center, an alternative school in Tupelo. Damakia worked as a security guard at the school.
She had spent five years in the United States Army and was earning a degree in criminal justice.
So part of her life was going well, but she did have problems. She and her husband Robert Phinizee were separated and she was seeing another man.
She was to pick up her children from her sister’s house after school. Damakia never showed. It was then, her sister contacted the Verona Police Department (VPD) and reported her missing.
“A 911 call from her sister came in around 6 p.m. She was worried because her sister didn’t pick up her children from school,” said VPD Sgt. Tara Sloan, at the time of the incident.
That same evening, the Grand Am was seen abandoned in the apartment buildings of the 2600 block of West Jackson Street in Tupelo. A witness reported the car sped into the parking lot, a black man, wearing a white T-shirt and jeans jumped out of the car and ran behind the apartment complex. There was a field and a small storage unit behind the complex.
The police went to the Phinizee residence to investigate and it was noted the sheets in the master bedroom were missing.
Robert suggested she had run off with her boyfriend. He said he removed the sheets because the children had wet the bed. The sheets were never recovered. It’s unclear if the car was examined for foul play.
Damakia’s family was adamant that she never would have left her three children. They believed foul play was involved.
“When the sister returned around 6 p.m. the car was gone and the house was unlocked. She said she had last talked to her sister (Damakia) on the phone the night before,” said Sgt. Sloan. “I know of two domestic violence-related incidents. We questioned the husband. He said he saw her at 6 that morning. He is not a suspect.”
Robert took the children and moved out of Tupelo the day after Damakia’s disappearance. He later remarried.
At that time, police officers questioned tenants at the apartment complex where the Pinnizees lived, but received no reports of anything out of the ordinary.
Fast forward to February 2020 — Robert, now living in Olive Branch, was charged with attempted murder in the shooting of his (new) estranged wife; they were in the process of getting a divorce.
He was able to get the attention of WREG reporters describing the new one as his “soon to be ex-wife.”
“She came around the corner. I could see her hands like this. It was dark, she couldn’t see me. I hit the floor,” he told reporters with the cameras rolling. “When I hit the floor I grabbed the gun like this and I grabbed her by the throat and wrestled her down. She said, ‘No, no, no Tre’ and when I fell on the floor with her, fell on the floor, I laid on top, the gun went off. Boom.”
Law enforcement is being tight-lipped but at last check, wife number two was still in the hospital.
Robert’s bond was set at $1 million. He remains in the DeSoto County Adult Detention Facility in Hernando.
The Olive Branch Police Department has reached out to the Verona Police Department. Verona Police Chief Marsenio Nunn said that since Damakia’s disappearance the department has gone through four police chiefs, but he was going to contact those who worked the case long ago.
“I have reached out to some of those officers and they have agreed to come in and go over the case file with me,” Nunn said. “It’s just going to be a while because of this stuff (Coronavirus) but we’re going to get back on it and hope to give that family closure.”
Nunn, a 26-year-old Booneville native, has spent the last six years in law enforcement in Prentiss and Lee counties before taking the job of Verona Police Chief in mid-January of 2020.
If you have any information in regards to the disappearance of Damakia Phinizee, call Northeast Mississippi Crimestoppers 800-773-8477.