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Mother, police can't give up on the case of a child killer
A composite sketch of the man wanted in the 1995 rape and killing of 14-year-old Nacole Smith.
By By BETH WARREN
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/16/07
Walking to school with her older sister and friends, Nacole Smith, an A student, realized she'd forgotten her school project and turned back toward home alone. Minutes later, the 14-year-old was abducted, raped and shot.
Twelve years later, Nacole's mother, Acqunellia Smith, still struggles to deal with her death and Atlanta police are still looking for her killer.
The Fulton County District Attorney's Cold Case Squad recently decided to ask for help in a case that has haunted them for years.
On Saturday, hundreds of volunteers are expected to join Cold Case Squad detectives as they go door-to-door in Nacole's southwest Atlanta neighborhood. They plan to ask if anyone remembers seeing the child with a gap-toothed man, shown in a composite drawing on posters circulating in the area.
Detective Vince Velazquez said he believes the killer either lives in the area or may visit family here around Father's Day weekend: "We feel we are possibly in the killer's backyard."
Velazquez also fears the predator could be in the area right now, searching for another victim.
Nacole was killed 11 days before Father's Day and police say DNA links her attacker to another child rape on Father's Day in 2004.
The second victim, a 13-year-old East Point girl, was snatched just three miles from where Nacole was killed, but she survived the attack.
Velazquez, who has studied both cases, believes he knows the type of person he's hunting.
"He's cocky, lucky, arrogant and takes advantage of people," the veteran detective said.
"He feels a sense of empowerment and entitlement over women. He would have beaten or molested his girlfriends or their daughters and they may not have reported it."
Shortcut through woods
The day Nacole died, she played with her infant cousin, told her mom she loved her and darted off to school.
After school, she planned to shop for a pretty white dress to wear at her upcoming eighth-grade graduation from Ralph Bunche Middle School.
But that Wednesday morning, June 7, 1995, she took a popular shortcut through the woods when she headed home to get her forgotten school project.
Police say the killer caught her there. She struggled and the man pulled a gun. She threw up her arm to block the bullet, but it ripped through her hand and tore into her brain.
Two security guards at a nearby apartment complex heard the shot and ran into the woods. They found Nacole and her book bag, which contained her identification and address.
Smith said she also heard the popping noise of the gunshot and minutes later, the chopping sound of police helicopters.
There was a loud knock at the door. She peeped out and saw neighbors in tears, then opened the door to two Atlanta police officers.
"Do you have a daughter by the name of Nacole Smith? We found a body in the woods and we need a picture of your daughter."
Smith ran to the bathroom, where she dropped to her knees. "Please Lord, I don't wish this on anybody else, but please let this not be my child."
She was soon on her way to a funeral home to identify Nacole's body.
Her child's eye was swollen from being struck with the butt of a gun. Her long hair had been washed to removed the blood. "I saw that she had cried and tears had dried up on her face," Smith said.
Smith recalled she'd persuaded her daughter not to wear her hair in a ponytail that morning. As Nacole headed to comb it out, the teenager said, "Mom, you're so crazy, but I love you."
Smith laughed at the memory, but minutes later burst into tears. She said she still can't accept Nacole's death and has even postponed buying a gravestone. "I'm in deep denial."
Overdose and anger
Before her daughter died, Smith was a Red Cross employee who hosted dinner parties and watched movies with her kids.
But after Nacole's death, her ex-husband, who lives out of state, filed for custody of their 10-year-old son. "I didn't have the strength to fight him," Smith said.
She said she still suffers from bouts of depression that have led to suicide attempts that landed her in hospital mental wards.
She recently took an overdose of pills, she said, but her fiance came to her rescue.
She said she also has fits of anger, lashing out at police, friends and relatives. She called off a second marriage. She is angry with herself and God for not protecting Nacole, she said.
At the grocery store, the bank, in the mall, Smith said she often scans crowds, looking for the killer.
When she got a call from police after the 2004 rape of the 13-year-old, Smith said she was thrilled to learn authorities might have identified her daughter's killer.
But when homicide detectives showed up, they brought only a composite drawing. Smith said she knew this meant the monster was still roaming the streets.
She said she stayed in bed with the curtains drawn for two weeks.
To detectives, however, the composite was promising. Police think Nacole's killer let the 13-year-old live because she didn't resist.
She later gave a police sketch artist a description of her attacker: a light-skinned black man, bald, with a gap between his front teeth.
Police have added his DNA profile to a national database. Velazquez said it's just a matter of time until the man is caught.
The detective had this advice for Nacole's rapist and killer:
"You might as well turn yourself in and face what you've done. You can't hide forever."
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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