Stephanie Nicole Parze Foundation holding annual color run/walk in Freehold, NJ
She would have been 28 years old this year, looking ahead to turning 29 on February 19 of 2023, and making everyone smile.
The tragedy of the passing of Stephanie Nicole Parze of Freehold is still fresh in its pain for so many people.
She lives on though, through memory, spirit, and more in the hearts, minds, and actions of her parents, sister, family, friends, and all of Stephanie's Angels who searched for her when she went missing, mourned her passing, and help her kind, caring, and loving spirit stay alive today.
One of the ways she continues to help others is through the non-profit that bears her name.
The Stephanie Nicole Parze Foundation formed after her passing helps so many including victims of Domestic Violence.
Ed Parze, Stephanie's Dad, joined us on 'Shore Time with Vin and Dave' on 94.3 The Point and 105.7 The Hawk on Sunday morning to discuss what led to creating the Stephanie Nicole Parze Foundation and how it continues to grow and help so many individuals and families.
Her story continues to be shared including how she had been missing for 87 days after having last been heard from in October of 2019.
"Stephanie was a beautiful young woman, she was 25 years old when we lost her, and, she was like a lot of the other young women out there, they wound up being victims because they become vulnerable and they become easily manipulated and it's all because they're looking for the right thing -- Stephanie's dream was to find 'Mr. Right', have a little house of her own, have a career -- everything everybody else wants, really wanting children," Ed Parze said. "By wanting that so badly, when she was 25 she used to always tell me 'Dad, I'm getting a little old, I want to start having children so I can raise my kids and be young with them, and I used to tell her 'just take it easy and don't rush things, but, you know how kids are nowadays, everything has to be in the moment, so, she started getting a little desperate and that desperateness made her vulnerable."
It led to her going online looking for someone special to have a family with.
"She went on the internet, and she found what she thought was a nice guy -- wound up to be a predator -- and long story short, it became a manipulative, very violent situation for her and when she finally realized what was going on, it was too late, the assaults had already occurred and she was trying to get away," Parze said. "As it turned out, she broke off with this person and he came over and did what he did. He strangled her to death and threw her body over on Route 9. It just turned for the worst and it turned quick because she was only seeing him for a little under a month -- actually seeing him as a boyfriend -- she knew him for three months from Facebook."
John Ozbilgen who was the prime suspect in the case ended up taking his own life shortly after being released from custody from a child porn-related arrest leaving behind a pair of suicide notes.
During that time period when Stephanie was breaking it off with Ozbilgen, Ed learned more about what was going on through another source.
"We didn't know what was going on obviously because he (Ozbilgen) was very good at what he did as far as manipulating her, she didn't realize what was happening to her. It was through an ex-boyfriend of Stephanie's who brought it to my attention that John was putting hands on her and once we found that out, I went to Stephanie and actually sat down and had a heart-to-heart with her," Parze said. "She didn't say a word, listened to me 100 percent -- but I told her then that this has got to be over, it's only going to get worse. Coming from the law enforcement background that I had, I've seen it many times, it's only going to escalate and she, at that point, begged me to let her handle it, she would take care of it, she would break it off, she promised me she'd break it off. As a father, I'm sitting there going 'do I let her do this?' I want her to be her own woman, I want her to be independent and be strong or, do I step in because I'm fearing that I know where this is going."
It's a decision that he wrestled with internally for a while.
"She tried to get away from him, she was telling her mother that she broke it off with him, she's not seeing him anymore, but, as things would have it, he would keep love-bombing her and getting her back in and talking to her and wound up at the house again one night and we had to get him out of there again, and, then what happened happened on the night when she came home with the girls," Parze said. "I told her right off the bat it's only going to get worse, he's going to keep telling you that he loves you and that he's never going to do it again and it's just going to keep getting worse, they don't change, and that's exactly what happened."
Stephanie was staying with her parents for a little while after an assault by Ozbilgen.
"I was reluctant to let her go back to where she was staying because she was by herself," Parze said.
After a night out with her friends to see a show, Stephanie went to her home and was never heard from again.
"He was there waiting, pretty much," Parze said.
For every one that joined in and helped, Ed and Sharlene Parze were extremely grateful and appreciative to all who helped them look for their daughter and answers.
"We never expected the amount of support we got from all the communities, not just around here, I mean, we were getting calls from different countries, every state was calling us, we had soldiers from Afghanistan writing us letters -- I mean we were getting stuff from everywhere, and the outpour for Stephanie was tremendous, on the first search we had 456 people show up," Parze said.
After multiple searches, Ed and Sharlene received some news from the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office and local law enforcement.
"We just then, sporadically with the help of some detectives and police departments from here and all the way through Staten Island, we just started gradually gritting it out and went all the way up the northern corridor. At one point my wife just said to me she's not on this side, she's on the southbound side, so we started coming back," Parze said. "As things would have it, she was, she was on the southbound side (of Route 9 in Old Bridge). We got lucky with the two boys that happened to be walking to work and crossed her body and called it in."
About a month later, on February 19, 2020, on what would have been her birthday, hundreds and hundreds of people from family, friends, members of the community, and more gathered in downtown Freehold to celebrate Stephanie's life and spirit in an emotional candlelight evening.
And at the end of the event, everyone wished Stephanie a Happy Birthday.
It was also on that night that Ed Parze announced the creation of the Stephanie Nicole Parze Foundation, something that has continued to grow over the last couple of years and they help so many people now including victims of Domestic Violence, Missing Persons, and their families.
"Once we found her, I said we're not going to let the name go, we're going to start the hashtag #rememberme and we're going to continue to keep her name alive, keep her legacy alive and we're going to build this foundation in her name so that we can try and stop some of this from happening to anybody else," Parze said.
One of the other ways they honor Stephanie with the Stephanie Nicole Parze Foundation is through the annual Color Butterfly Run/Walk which this year is taking place on October 1.
"There will be live music there plus a DJ and a cornhole tournament going on as well as a kids fishing derby to start it off," Parze said. "It's a great event, we have a lot of fun with it every year and it's one of our biggest fundraisers, so we look forward to seeing everyone out there."
There is much more from this conversation as Ed Parze discusses the services the Stephanie Nicole Parze Foundation offers and how you can get involved as well. You can listen to the full interview conversation with Ed Parze on 'Shore Time with Vin and Dave' on 94.3 The Point and 105.7 The Hawk, right here.