July 04, 2011 12:00 PM

Growing up in the village of Edgemont, N.Y., Lauren Spierer was the rare sort of popular student who regarded her comfortable life as a privilege, not a God-given right. Though her favorite activity was combing shops for the eclectic clothes that got her voted Best Dressed her senior year of high school, she helped defray costs by working for three years at a trendy Scarsdale, N.Y., boutique. After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, Spierer traveled to New Orleans with Habitat for Humanity to help rebuild. Earlier this year she headed for Israel to perform community service work. “She loves helping other people,” says her friend Frankie Merante. “She knows she is a lucky girl and likes to give back.”

On June 3 the petite blonde dynamo vanished not far from the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, where she is a sophomore majoring in fashion merchandising. Since then, a more complicated picture of Spierer, 20, has begun to emerge. Surveillance video that captured her movements in the hours before her disappearance shows Spierer entering Kilroy’s Sports Bar at 1:46 a.m. Less than 45 minutes later she left, forgetting her shoes and cellphone, and walked home with student Corey Rossman. After Rossman got into an altercation with other students (which, according to his lawyer, caused him to lose memory of all events after leaving Kilroy’s), they continued on to his complex. While the last video image of Spierer shows her heading toward an empty lot at 2:56 a.m., eyewitness accounts describe her entering Rossman’s complex, then heading to her off-campus apartment at 4:30 a.m.

Confronted by reporters on June 13 with rumors that sometime after leaving the bar Spierer suffered a cocaine overdose and that her body was subsequently disposed of by one or more panicked students, Bloomington police captain Joe Qualters replied, “Have we heard information along those lines? Absolutely.” Detectives, he said, have not ruled out that-or any other-possibility.

None of this was imaginable when her proud parents, Charlene, a homemaker, and Robert, a certified public accountant, designed a page for Spierer’s 2009 high school yearbook featuring a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that now seems more chilling than inspirational: “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” By then, Spierer, an avid soccer and lacrosse player, had been forced off a path of her own design. Diagnosed in 11th grade with a heart rhythm disorder, she had to give up sports. Relying on medication to control the problem, the 90-lb. Spierer seamlessly shifted to the yearbook staff. She also conducted a weekly class for younger kids at her synagogue. “She is amazing at being a leader,” says a longtime Edgemont friend. “She’s a great listener. She’ll listen to anyone’s drama.”

High school friends who have remained in touch with Spierer say that at Indiana University she was enthusiastic about both her studies and her boyfriend Jesse Wolff, a senior. The longtime friend says she “wouldn’t be surprised” if Spierer and Wolff decided to marry; a friend of Spierer’s parents says that Charlene and Robert “love him.” But two neighbors of Rossman say that shortly after Spierer’s disappearance, he told them that Spierer and Wolff were “on the rocks.” Spierer’s college roommate, Hadar Tamir, told Westchester website Lohud.com that Wolff unsuccessfully tried to get in touch with Spierer, first by text, then by visiting her apartment. Wolff, who is among several persons of interest to police, then reported Spierer missing.

Last week friends from New York and Indiana were among the 167 searchers, both paid and volunteer, trying to help the Spierers locate the younger of their two daughters. The distraught parents, who have appeared at police press conferences but declined most interview requests, are holding up, says an Edgemont friend, because they believe Lauren “is out there.” On June 20 Captain Qualters put to rest rumors about a circling white truck, a bag of clothing and a suspicious odor. All, he said, were insignificant to the investigation. If there has been any new information gleaned from the more than 1,000 tips that have poured in to police, he remained mum. With Spierer’s mom and dad standing close by, Qualters offered only the obvious: “We won’t be satisfied until we find out what happened to Lauren.”

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