Two years ago, a 14-year old girl told her parents she was going to see a friend. A month later, two hikers in a nearby park found her body. Local police and her family have no idea what happened in the meantime.
But, they believe, someone does know.
In the hopes that increasing the reward for information will solve the murder case of Erica Smith, the Dulles Town Center is sponsoring a fundraiser at the Dulles Town Center Courtyard by Marriott Hotel on Saturday, Oct. 23 from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m., featuring a silent auction, refreshments and entertainment.
“We believe that we’re just a phone call away from solving this case,” said Allison Fischer-Stasiowski, director of marketing for the Town Center.
“One hundred percent of the proceeds from everything, every penny will go to Erica Smith,” she said.
Erica’s father, William Smith, is a UPS delivery man for the Town Center and “everyone knows him.”
Before his daughter’s disappearance, Stasiowski said that Smith knew things about everyone he worked with at the Town Center. “I was amazed with his ability to know about everyone’s life. He’d ask if my grandmother was settled into the nursing home alright or how someone’s son was doing after starting college. He’s amazing,” she said, but all that’s changed now.
“He’s different. He told me it’s very difficult to get through the day. When people ask him how he’s doing, which he must get asked dozens of times every day, he says it’s a constant reminder of how broken he is,” she said.
The Town Center employees raised $5000 toward the reward fund shortly after Erica went missing, she said. “We want to make sure we’re doing anything we can to help their family.”
The planning for the fundraiser started about a month ago, with stores from the Town Center donating goods and services, including two club seats for the Redskins/Vikings football game, airline tickets, jewelry and prescription eyeglasses.
“We’ve raised more support than ever with this event,” Stasiowski said. “There are some people around here making huge donations, but we really need people to come out and support the family. We want to remind them that we support them, but it also shows the person who did it we didn’t forget about them either.”
Kraig Troxell is the public information officer with the Loudoun County Sheriffs Department and aggress that one phone call could break the case.
“This remains an active investigation, it’s not a cold case by any means,” he said. “We still get information and try to follow up on any leads we get.”
Currently the reward stands at about $10,000, Troxell said, with contributions from the Town Center, the family and CrimeStoppers.
“We believe that someone has information about this case that hasn’t come forward. Each time something happens with the case, or when the family held a memorial service on the one-year anniversary of her disappearance, we get a few calls,” he said.
“People who commit crimes often confide in someone about what they’ve done,” he said. “Even if a person thinks the police have heard a story or tip about Erica or what happened to her, they need to call and let us know. We don’t know everything,” Troxell said.
Her body was found by two hikers in Beaumeade Circle near Redskin Park in a shallow grave a few weeks after her July 29, 2002 disappearance, he said, and there was no evidence of foul play until her body was found.
“We didn’t have anything to issue an Amber Alert for, there wasn’t a car or anything like that in particular to look for,” he said, so the case was initially treated the same as a runaway child.
“We definitely feel this is a solvable case,” he said. “We very well could be one call away from a tip that will lead us to solving it.”
“We’re asking anyone with any information, anything at all, to call and tell us,” Troxell said.
William and Pamela Smith are still grieving daily for the loss of their “baby girl,” but it’s exactly that grief and love of their lost daughter that drives them to continue to fight for justice in her memory.
“Erica’s voice is silent and we have to be her voice, we’re her family,” Pamela Smith said. “She had just turned 14, she was a beautiful girl with a smile that would just light up a room. Whoever did this took a major part of us.”
“There was so much love between Erica and her (younger) brother,” she said.
“He lost a lifetime companion,” William Smith said. “He still can’t understand why, why someone so evil would do this to someone so good.”
They are also very concerned because the “savage” that killed their daughter is still free.
“As much as people may believe this is an isolated incident, I don’t believe for one minute that it is,” said William Smith.
That belief and the urgency Erica’s family feels in finding the person responsible for her death is shadowed only by the overwhelming sense of gratitude they feel toward those holding the fundraiser.
“Everyone I have come in contact with at the Dulles Town Center has been such an inspiration,” William Smith said. “It makes you cry, not tear up but cry, to know there is so much overwhelming support from people. I can’t even express what my heart really feels for all of the people at the Town Center and my coworkers at UPS.”
“God bless them,” Pamela Smith said. “We thank them so much for all they’ve done, and to have a fundraiser to… help get justice for our daughter and get her killer off the streets.”
"We will not stop this crusade until we find the person who did this to our baby girl," William Smith said. "We will carry this grief to our graves."
“There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t cry for Erica,” she said. “I still think she’s going to come home. But her spirit is with us wherever we go.”