What happened to Franchesca Alvarado?

A woman referring to herself as "Mia" holds a missing person poster of her younger sister Franchesa "Cheka" Alvardo at the Piccoli Park and City Recreation Center in the Juniata section of Philadelphia on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. ( Yong Kim / Staff Photographer )

FRANCHESCA Alvarado, where, oh, where are you?

Back on March 13, you went to Atlantic City for the evening with an older male friend named Tracy Williams, who drove you there. You were going to have some fun before registering for classes the following week at Community College of Philadelphia. You were thrilled, at age 22, to be starting college life as a criminal-justice major.

You were last seen around Resorts and the Borgata, but you never came home that night, as you’d planned to.

Your brother and six sisters have not heard from you, which is alarming. You’re a tight family, having survived a tough childhood together — you’re never out of touch with each other for more than a day or so. And you would never have left your 3-year-old daughter, Janiah, the light of your life, whom you’d placed with a sitter for the night. Your credit cards, phone and Facebook page have gone dormant, too.

Your siblings are sick with worry. They are running out of ways to explain your absence to Janiah, who is staying with your sister Frances, and your friend Yari. They tell her you are working, but she’s a bright kid and can sense that something is wrong. Another sister, Christine, says that Janiah has taken to praying at bedtime for your protection."She’s very spiritual; Cheka taught her to pray," says Christine, using your childhood nickname — Cheka. "She prays all the time."

Neither Christine, Frances nor Yari wanted their last names used because they are afraid.

According to Lt. Harold Lloyd, of Philly’s East Detectives, Tracy Williams said that he and you split off from each other in Atlantic City, that you announced you’d find your own way back to Philly.

Frances, who says that no one in the family is acquainted with Williams, finds the notion ridiculous. You’re a homebody, would never leave the city by yourself and have been to the Jersey shore so infrequently you’d be scared of climbing aboard the wrong bus back.

Lloyd says that his detectives, who are working with Atlantic City police and the FBI, questioned Williams extensively and that, in the beginning, he was cooperative. Now, Williams has lawyered up and refuses to take a polygraph.

"This is very much an ongoing investigation, so I can’t say whether [Williams] is or is not a person of interest," Lloyd told me. "We are working on some new leads."

Franchesca, your family can’t say enough good things about the Philly police. The detectives have been serious and thorough about your disappearance since the beginning. State Rep. Tony Payton has also been committed to helping your siblings find you.

"We are in his office every other day, using the color copier for fliers" seeking information as to your whereabouts, says Frances. "He’s always in touch. We have so many people who care about my sister."

Frances wouldn’t mind my saying that she cries for you every day. The day that I met with her at Piccoli Playground, in Juniata Park, where you and she would take your kids to play (her two little ones are like siblings to Janiah), she wept as she rifled through the stack of posters that she and your siblings carry around like Bibles.

They push them into the hands of anyone who will take them. They post them in the Hunting Park neighborhood where you were living and around West Kensington, Williams’ neighborhood. Every other week, they trek to Atlantic City, where they plaster the Boardwalk with your photo.

Whoever is responsible for your absence, says Frances, must have known of your tough background and presumed, wrongly, that no one would miss you if you were gone. Nothing could be further from the truth.

"We are all very, very close," says Frances. "Our dad is in prison, and my mom was sick when we were growing up. She passed when Cheka was 9 and I was 13. Before she died, she told me to always look after Cheka. We were the youngest and she wanted us to stick together."

During that dark time, a relative sexually abused you and Frances, and it took a long time to come to grips with what was done to you. Healing together formed a bond between you and Frances that will never be broken. Your other siblings’ support only strengthened your love as a family.

They miss you, Franchesca — your huge smile, big heart, the way you’d drop everything to help them. What hurts them is that this terrible thing has befallen you just as you were coming into your own, surviving a childhood that not many girls would survive with their spirits intact.

You did. That you might not be around to revel in your survival, to raise your daughter with the stability you never had, is unthinkable.

Please come home, Franchesca. Your family misses you terribly.

The family of Franchesca Alvarado is offering a reward for information on her whereabouts. If you can help, call East Detectives at 215-686-3243 or Christine, Franchesca’s sister, at 267-241-9592. For updates on Facebook, join "Find Franchesca Cheka Alvarado."

Contact polaner@email@phillynews.com. Call 215-854-2217. Blog: phillynews.com/ronnieblog. Twitter: @RonniePhilly.