TOWN OF WALLKILL — For 15 years, Megan McDonald’s family has lived without answers, and without her.

Megan was chipper and upbeat, with a quick smile and an easy laugh. She had a knack for making people comfortable. She purred sometimes when she was happy, as if joy effervesced from her very core.

This is whom Megan’s family lost in the early morning hours of March 14, 2003, when someone beat her to death and left her in a snowy field off Bowser Road in the Town of Wallkill. A person who lived nearby found her the next day. Someone found her car, a Mercury Sable, a few miles away at the Kensington Manor apartment complex.

No one has been charged in the case.

Megan was 20, just starting out in life, with a world of possibilities ahead of her.

“All the milestones that are out there - Megan was so young. Did she want to get married, to have kids? Yeah, in the abstract. She never had the opportunity to think deeply on those topics, because she was so young,” said James Whalen, who’s married to Megan’s older sister, Karen. He has become the family’s spokesman over the years, speaking on behalf of Karen and their mom, Elizabeth McDonald.

“We missed out on seeing her life and her milestones, and we missed out on having her be a part of part of our lives as well,” Whalen said.

Before she was a face on a billboard, before the reward for answers in her death rose to $50,000, Megan McDonald was a daughter and a sister and a friend, happy and full of life.

Megan’s case has never gone cold. State police continue to follow leads, to interview potential witnesses, to review the evidence to see if anything new might come from advances in scientific testing.

“Secrets are sometimes meant to be shared,” said Investigator Brad Natalizio, who took over the case recently. “I’m confident there are individuals out there who do know something, whether it’s what happened or just a piece of the puzzle.”

Natalizio said he understands that people may be reluctant to speak to police, “but at the end of the day, this is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s sister.”

Police and the family hope someone will come forward.

“If there’s information someone has, even if they think it’s not important, if their memory is jogged, if something is burdening their soul, do the state police want to hear from you? Absolutely, they do,” Whalen said.

Megan had withdrawn some after her father’s death in 2002. But by 2003, her family says, Megan was getting her life back on track. She was taking classes at SUNY Orange, and working as a waitress at The American Cafe, a restaurant in the Galleria at Crystal Run.

She was thinking about her future, hoping and planning for her life ahead.

“She was so young, that’s all she was: Hopes and dreams,” Whalen said.

All of that was taken away from Megan, and from her family.

She’s still in their hearts, with the bittersweet memories of holidays and the things that would make her laugh.

“It didn’t have to be this way, and it shouldn’t be this way,” Whalen said. “Megan should still be here.”

​hyakin@th-record.com