For each and every member of Erica Smith’s family and friends, “not a day goes by” that they do not think of the girl who was killed only weeks before she was set to begin high school in fall 2002.
July 29 marked the 10th anniversary of the day Erica was last seen, and Thursday will mark 10 years since her body was discovered in a shallow grave along Broad Run Creek off Loudoun County Parkway near Redskins Park. For investigators and those who knew and loved her, that is just too long.
During a candlelight vigil Friday evening, and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office’s first Child Victim Awareness Day Saturday afternoon, justice was on the minds of everyone.
“Our hope and prayer is that as we hold this vigil to shed light on Erica’s death will bring more awareness to it,” family friend Cynthia Robinson, who has served as the family’s spokesperson said.
“We still seek justice,” Erica’s father William Smith said Friday. “And we will continue to seek justice until the day we die.”
“It has been 10 long years and it has not been easy,” Pam Smith, Erica’s mother, said during Friday night’s ceremony. Her voice broke as she talked about learning of Erica’s disappearance and, later, the discovery of her body. The pain, the hurt and the anger still linger, she said.
“I still see her smiling at me. I still see joking with me. I still hear her saying, ‘Mom, I love you,’” Pam Smith told the gathering of more than 50 people.
Neither Pam nor William “Pete” Smith has ever given up hope that their daughter’s killer will be caught, and Sheriff Mike Chapman has strengthened that hope. Saturday’s Child Victim Awareness Day event was centered on Erica Smith and the search for whoever killed her.
Chapman’s involvement in the Smiths’ case started before he was elected to office last November. Saturday he told the story of campaigning at the Exxon gas station in Ashburn’s Junction Plaza—just across the street from the site of Friday night’s vigil. William Smith pulled up to the gas station while Chapman and Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman were there, and Plowman introduced the two men.
“I could see the emotion in him,” Chapman said Saturday, and that there was a feeling “the case did not receive the attention it deserved. I told him I would to bring this to a successful resolution.”
And indeed, the sheriff’s office is working on doing just that. Chapman has instituted a “cold case” initiative in the agency to close unsolved violent crime cases, and Erica Smith’s homicide is at the top of the list. A new investigation team is looking into Erica’s death, treating it as if it happened 10 days ago, not 10 years ago. Chapman acknowledged that initially Erica’s death was looked at in a thorough investigation, agreeing that it was not a “random act of violence” and that Erica knew her killer.
“There have been significant scientific advances in forensic processes in the past 10 years,” Chapman said. “Crime laboratories can now obtain results from smaller samples of physical evidence. All evidence in Erica’s case was preserved and our detectives have identified specific pieces of potential analysis in light of these advancements.”
But Chapman and Major Richard Fiano, head of the Criminal Investigation Division, said it would also take the help of the community to solve Erica’s homicide.
“The detectives will review all the evidence and will follow all the leads, but we need your help,” Fiano said. “It takes a collective effort between the police department and the community to solve a crime. We know there is information out there that we don’t have yet.”
Chapman said after 10 years a lot can change for a witness or individual with information—their loyalties might be different; they might be parents themselves; or they might have had enough time to feel comfortable telling what they know.
“We have been reviewing leads and our detectives have started re-interviewing individuals associated with the investigation,” he said.
Members of the public who know anything about the case are urged to come forward. They can contact the sheriff’s office at 703-777-1919, or call Crime Solvers at 1-877-777-1931. There also has been a website set up through the county for updates and tips on the case. At www.loudoun.gov/ericasmith anonymous tips will be accepted and privacy is assured.
“We can and we will solve this murder with the help of the community,” Robinson said. “Put yourself in Pam and William’s place, and what you would expect of your community.”
Pam Smith said the renewed interest and public awareness of her daughter’s case has been “very uplifting” for her and her family. “Where there was little hope we now feel like there is hope.”
And she said the work of the sheriff’s office even goes beyond Erica’s death.
“It could save someone else’s child,” she said. “I know it can’t bring Erica back, but it could help another family.”
As for the person or people who know what happened to her daughter July 29, 2002, she had one message.
“If you had a child wouldn’t you want someone to come forward with any information. Ten years is too long,” she said. “Come forward and tell what you know. And let the investigators decide whether it is worth something. It could be just that little thing that someone thinks isn’t important that gives us the answer.”