Jeremy Hogan/Bloomington Herald-Times/Polaris

More than 3,500 tips have yet to reveal the fate of Indiana University student Lauren Spierer, who vanished on June 3, 2011

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May 19, 2016 11:10 AM

Through the march of weddings, holidays, good times and bad over the past five years, Charlene Spierer has worked to find the joy and love that bonds her family through the heartbreak of a missing child.

“Of course life has to go on,” the mother of Lauren Spierer tells PEOPLE. “We are able to embrace those happy things.”

But in many ways, time for her stopped in 2011 when Lauren, 20, a bright, beautiful sophomore from Edgemont, New York, who was studying fashion at Indiana University Bloomington, concluded a night of partying with friends and simply vanished.

“Your life is so consumed with trying to find your loved one, you don’t even realize that time is going by,” Lauren’s mom says. “It feels to me like it’s still June 3, 2011.”

As the fifth anniversary of Lauren’s disappearance nears, Bloomington Police have logged the numbers in their so-far unsuccessful search for answers: more than 3,500 tips, 2,505 overtime hours, a dig through a landfill, and the rundown of “possible connections to a number of criminal suspects arrested in other jurisdictions for heinous crimes against female victims,” according to a statement shared by police with PEOPLE.

“The investigation into Lauren’s disappearance has never been considered or labeled a ‘cold case,’ ” says the department, which adds “there is work being done on the case literally every day.”

Says Charlene Spierer: “I always hope and pray that we never hit these marks. I always hope that we’re not going to make it to the fourth year, the fifth year ”

“It’s always tough for us when these markers come up, because it’s much more of a focus for the rest of the world. But for us, it’s every day. We’re trying to just keep doing what we can to try to keep Lauren’s case on the minds of the right people.”

Robert and Charlene Spierer
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

“When these anniversaries or birthdays or Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, all of these different times of the year come up, it makes it that much harder,” she says. “But we live with it every day.”

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In the narrative of her last-known hours, Lauren visited a friend’s apartment, then another’s, on the night of June 2, 2011, before she and an acquaintance went to a sports bar, where eyewitnesses later told investigators she appeared intoxicated. She left after 45 minutes, leaving behind her cell phone and shoes. She fell at least twice and hit her head on her walk back, and reportedly refused an offer to stay at a friend’s place in favor of a five-minute walk home from there around 4:30 a.m.

She never arrived. The roles her friends and acquaintances played that night and early morning have raised questions for Lauren’s parents, Charlene and Robert, ever since.

Newer developments have kept the mystery in the headlines. A murder trial looms for Daniel Messel, charged with killing Hannah Wilson, 22, another Indiana University student whose body was found in April 2015 after she was last seen leaving the same bar that Lauren had visited. Despite surface parallels, the Spierers have been told there’s no connection.

But police did confirm that a raid last January on a registered sex offender’s former residence was tied to a tip in the Spierer case, although no more details have been made public.

“We’re really still pretty much in the dark,” says Charlene Spierer.

She is unwavering in her belief that more than one person was involved in Lauren’s disappearance, and long frustrated by the silence of those whom she says must know something.

“I just don’t understand how people don’t have a conscience, how they can just move along and go on with their daily lives,” she says. “I’m not even asking to know who the guilty party is. You can just imagine how you just want to bring your child home. That’s my first and foremost.”

Apart from the difficult milestone marking Lauren’s disappearance, this summer also marks the 10th anniversary of Lauren’s last trip to a beloved Pennsylvania summer camp – and an occasion when those campers return to unearth time capsules they buried with unknown treasures for their future selves a decade earlier.

“I can’t even tell you how much she loved her camp,” says Lauren’s mom, fighting back tears. But she will not be going in her daughter’s place to join in what surely would have been a happy reunion for her daughter.

“I think it would just be too hard for us to go,” she says.

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