Women still missing, not forgotten
Friday, August 20. 2010 - BY KATELYN FERRAL - Staff Writer
CARRBORO -- An overcast and rainy sky brightened Thursday as colorful balloons in memory of Deborah Leigh Key were released at the site where she went missing nearly 13 years ago.
Key's friends joined the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons at the first stop of a seven-day national tour to renew interest and awareness for more than 100 cold missing-persons cases.
Key was 35 when she disappeared Nov. 30, 1997, from the parking lot behind the now-defunct Sticks & Stones pool hall and bar in Carrboro. Key's remains have never been found. Andrew Douglas Dalzell was arrested and charged with her murder in 2004, but the charges were later dropped. Carrboro police are still investigating the case.
"With Debbie everything was spontaneous. ... We thought in the spirit of Debbie, we'd have a spontaneous ceremony," said Joyce Preslar, a longtime friend of Debbie's who helped organize the event. "We thought it was very important to support the tour, and we're very grateful that they decided to put Debbie on the tour."
After friends chatted and shared memories of Key, four of them stood behind a table commemorating her with photos, candles and newspaper clippings, and released more than 20 balloons into the clouds, watching as they floated away.
"It's very disturbing because we still haven't found her," said Laurel Schwartz, another friend. "She's very well missed. She was a really dear friend to all of us."
This is the seventh year that CUE has held a cross-country tour to remember and highlight missing persons. Founder Monica Caison said the group was inspired by the disappearance of Durham native Leah Roberts
, who was a student at N.C. State University when she disappeared at age 23 during a road trip in 2000.
Her Jeep was found abandoned and wrecked in Bellingham, Wash. She was never found, and her case is still unsolved. CUE, based in Wilmington, traced Roberts' path in 2004 through her credit card purchases, driving through each place she was thought to have stopped. The trip revived interest in Roberts' case, garnering significant media attention and a spread in People magazine.
Since that trip, the group has picked one missing person each year, traveling from its base in Wilmington to the site where that person went missing, making stops at other missing-persons sites along the way. This year's tour honors Patricia Viola, who disappeared from Bogota, N.J., in 2001 while on her way home from volunteering at a local library.
"It's just sad that there's a lot of them," Caison said. "We always pick a case that's really an underdog case."
When the group is not on tour, it is actively working with law enforcement to solve missing-person cases from across the country, Caison said. The publicity generated by the annual road trip has helped solve at least one cold case each year, she said.
"Last year, we solved a case that was 28 years old," she said. "The biggest thing for families is that it does bring a sense of renewed hope. The bottom line is the people closest to these people don't move on."
While attention is often the most effective way to bring cold cases like Debbie Key's to a close, remembering a friend who's lost can still be painful. "I still miss her, I still get emotional," Schwartz said as she wiped away a tear. "We were just really good friends. ... She was just our goodtime gal."