Investigators said they have identified a suspect in the death of Nacole Smith, who was raped and shot in the face on June 7, 1995. He died of liver and kidney failure while in hospice care in August.
“I never imagined this person would be deceased, so many unanswered questions I had for him that I can never ask and get answers, but I would never say it was closure for me because I will live with this pain for the rest of my life,” Smith’s mother, Acquenellia Smith, said during a news conference.
He was never charged or arrested for the murder. His name was not announced by authorities, citing efforts to not give him any relevancy, but Fox affiliate WAGA-TV identified him as 49-year-old Kevin Arnold.
Smith was walking to school with her sister when she turned around to go back home after realizing she forgot something. When she took a shortcut through the woods, she was confronted by the suspect, police said.
She was raped and shot twice in the face. Retired Atlanta Detective Vince Velasquez said he reopened the case in 2002 on his own.
“If you’ve ever seen a case that the Atlanta Police Department put any effort into a case, this was it,” he said.
In 2004, a forensic match to the 1995 killing was made when a 13-year-old girl was raped in the suburb of East Point, he said. The girl was dragged into the woods and eventually escaped.
She was able to describe the suspect to detectives, officials said.
Velazquez worked the case until his retirement in 2017. Detective Scott Demeester took over and said three years went by before a person of interest was identified.
The suspect was found using genealogy and forensic technology. The DNA of the alleged killer and the suspect who raped the young girl was matched to a man who died in a hospice facility, officials said.
Detectives were notified of a match just after Christmas.
“He is no longer out there able to do the things that he did to me and Nacole and to others,” said Betty Brown, who survived the East Point rape as she hugged Smith’s mother. “This is a bittersweet moment. I’m mad that I did get that opportunity to face him.”