ATLANTA (AP) – A cold case homicide has been solved 26 years after a 14-year-old girl was raped and killed while on her way to school, Atlanta police announced Tuesday.
Detectives used DNA testing and genealogy tools to finally identify a suspect, who is now dead, police said at a news conference.
In 1995, Nacole Smith was on her way to school when she cut through some woods on the city’s southwest side and was beaten, raped and shot to death, police said.
In 2002, former Atlanta police Detective Vince Velazquez dug into the case and got a break in 2004, when evidence from an attack on a young girl in nearby East Point, Georgia, matched evidence in the Atlanta killing. But it took police years to identify a suspect.
Police worked to publicize the case, which got attention from the TV show “America’s Most Wanted,” Velazquez recalled Tuesday.
When Velazquez retired from the police department in 2017, Detective Scott Demeester took over much of the work. Using genealogy records, Demeester worked to develop a person of interest and obtained a sample of his DNA.
Shortly after Christmas, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s forensic lab was able to match the suspect’s DNA to evidence in the case.
The man police believe killed the teenager died in August 2021 after being in hospice care with liver and kidney failure, police said. They did not name the suspect during Tuesday’s news conference, saying they wanted the focus to be on the girl and her family.
“I’ll live with this pain for the rest of my life,”said her mother, Acqunellia Smith. “Just taking one day at a time.”