Five-year-old Ara was last seen in her bedroom in her family's mobile home in the 300 block of Boulder Street in Big Sandy, Texas on April 2, 1986 between 1:00 and 2:30 a.m. She disappeared from the home sometime during the overnight hours and has not been heard from again. Her parents discovered the back door to the residence standing open and their daughter missing at approximately 6:30 in the morning. There was no sign of forced entry to the home and no one heard anything unusual that night.
In 2007, authorities announced that they considered David Elliot Penton a person of interest in Ara's disappearance and in the disappearances and murders of several other young girls (including Amber Crum and Angelica Maria Gandara). He has been incarcerated in an Ohio prison since 1987. He also signed a plea agreement admitting to the murders of three girls in Texas. The Texas victims disappeared over a period of 18 months in the Dallas area, and they ranged in age from 4 to 9 years old.
Penton was also convicted of manslaughter in the child abuse death of his own infant son in 1984; he fled while free on bond pending the outcome of his appeal and remained at large until 1987 when he was charged with the murder of a friend's 9-year-old niece in Ohio. He was later convicted of this crime. His cellmates went to investigators and claimed that he had implicated himself in the disappearances of Ara, Amber and Angelica, but he has not been charged in connection with any of these disappearances.
Foul play is suspected in Ara's case and authorities believe that she was abducted by someone who knew her family's habits. As of 2020, her case remains unsolved.
Ara is described as an African-American female with black hair, brown eyes, a height of 3'0 and weighs 39 pounds. Two of her lower front teeth were missing at the time of her disappearance and she has a silver filling in her right back molar.
Her nickname is Neecee (sometimes spelled "Nicee" or "Niecie") and her middle name may be spelled "Denice." She was last seen wearing orange panties and wrapped in a dark orange bedspread which was later found to be missing from the home.