They walked in silence, holding candles and remembering their departed friend. A light snow fell upon Del Ray as the mournful procession eased down Commonwealth Avenue. Their faces were cast downward, marking another year without Nancy Dunning.
“It’s been two years, but we are still a community in mourning,” said Vice Mayor Del Pepper. “I want justice, and I want closure.”
Dunning’s murder on Dec. 5, 2003 remains unsolved, and no suspect has been arrested in connection with the crime. Now, on the anniversary of her death, friends and family participated in the second annual candlelight vigil to remember Dunning. Participants sang “This Little Light of Mine” and held hands in prayer at the Mount Vernon Community Center.
“Though we will never get over Nancy’s murder, we are learning to live without her,” said Patty Moran, her sister. “Do not let Nancy be forgotten.”
DUNNING WAS THE wife of Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning. She was a real-estate agent with McEnearney and a columnist for the Alexandria Gazette Packet. Her regularly appearing feature, “Dunning on Del Ray,” urged Alexandrians to support the shops along Mount Vernon Avenue.
“I think her legacy will be her community involvement,” said T.C. Williams Principal John Porter. “She worked tirelessly to make Alexandria a better place, and her loss has been deeply felt here.”
Sheriff-elect Dana Lawhorne agreed that Dunning’s legacy will be the community sprit and can-do attitude in Del Ray.
“Her contributions to this community were enormous,” Lawhorne said. “She brought a lot of resources to Mount Vernon Avenue, and her intent was to make it the vibrant place that it now is.”
Dunning promoted many community events, including Art on the Avenue, the Halloween Parade, the Turkey Trot and First Thursday. From 2000 to 2003, she wrote the newspaper column to celebrate Del Ray — and she did it in a way that let her fun-loving personality shine through. Her last column, which appeared in the Alexandria Gazette Packet one day before the murder, is a typical example of her style and ever-present concern for the community.
“The Del Ray Citizens Association will have their annual holiday party at Fireflies Restaurant,” Dunning wrote. “Bring a toy for a toyless child and we will put you under the mistletoe for 15 minutes. Seriously.”
DUNNING WAS MURDERED on a rainy Friday afternoon at her home on West Mount Ida Avenue. She had just arrived from shopping at Target department store, where she was preparing for Del Ray’s first “luminaria.” It was supposed to happen on Dec. 6, 2003, but Dunning’s death postponed the event into disarray. Tom Welsh, who was then president of the Del Ray Citizens Association, explained in the Dec. 18, 2003 issue of the Alexandria Gazette Packet that the event would continue.
“We postponed that until this Saturday,” he was quoted in the newspaper. “But we want to light them now as a tribute to everything that Nancy did for this community.”
Since then, the luminaria has been an unofficial tribute to Dunning. The annual candlelight vigil has been a time to remember her work in the community, especially during the holiday season. Questions about her murder, however, continue to linger.
Surveillance footage from Target shows a man following Dunning at the store, talking on his cell phone. Although the Alexandria Police Department has released the photo, no one has come forward with any information leading to an arrest. Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel said that prosecutors from his office meet every 30 to 60 days with police investigators. They have little to show for their efforts.
“This is not a cold case,” said Capt. John Crawford, public information officer for the police. “We could get a phone call today and close the case tomorrow.”
Police have launched a new web site to help crack the case: alexandria.gov/dunning. Investigators are hoping that anonymous online tips will lead them to clues that can solve the mysteries behind her murder.
In a statement, Police Chief Charles Samarra agreed that the case is not cold.
“We still believe that Nancy was targeted and that her murder could be connected to an event or relationship in her recent past," Samarra said.