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Local News

Cold Cases: The Victims & Those They Leave Behind

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NOTE: This series first aired in October, 2015.

Victims of crimes deal with the trauma of that experience in different ways but when there is no new information on a case it can be even more difficult.

A word of caution: some readers may find part of this story disturbing.

When a person becomes the victim of a homicide, the only thing left that can be done for them is to find their killer and bring them to justice. In most cases, the victims leave behind loved ones and friends, and the ordeal for them can be made worse if the case drags on for years.

“We have our assistants make sure that they communicate with them at each state of the process,” said State Attorney Bill Eddins. His office reaches out in two ways: one is having assistant state attorneys staying in touch with them at each stage of the process.

“We also have victim advocates who are trained to help the victims with their emotional feelings,” Eddins said. “We also have a victim advocate assigned to many of these cases, so that they can have a point person in our office, if they have questions, become dissatisfied, or want updates.”

“There are a few family members that will still reach out to me and ask for updates on a regular basis,” said Steve Hall, who oversees cold cases at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. “But for the most part, they wait around for a call, in the hope that we may solve their case.”

A sample policy for cold case victim notification is at the website www.victimsofcrime.org. It calls for law enforcement to provide at least a yearly update on status; notification if the case is re-activated, if the victims requested it.

“My sister, Danielle Arion Bell, went missing on September 28th, 2001 from a party in Cantonment, Florida,” said Bonnie Bell. Danielle, who was 14 years old at the time, is suspected to have been murdered. One of the men she was last seen with, Alfredo Sanchez Jr.,  is serving a 45 year prison term for sexually assaulting two minors – one of them Danielle.

“There’s another suspect who has made suggestions in forums on Facebook that she was murdered, chopped up, and put into a hog pen,” Bell said. “This is the same rumor that’s been associated with her case for the past 14 years.”

No charges have been filed in the case, which is now part of the Cold Case file at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department. Detective Mark Smeester was the first investigator assigned.  He has since left the ECSO, and Bell says subsequent meetings with other detectives “have not gone well.” 

“There is a lack of full understanding from agencies, the state, the county – on what exactly a family member goes through,” Bell said. “So I think that the best support that you get is through other family members.”

Bell now does some work with Klass Kids – a Pensacola-based organization that’s active in the protection of children and the search for those who are missing. But despite that, and her constant contact with family and the relatives of other missing victims, Bell says as long as Danielle’s case remains unsolved, the end for them is not in sight.

“You basically learn to live with it, and how to live with it,” said Bell. “It is the most difficult thing I have ever had to deal with. It took me a long time, probably about ten years, to know how to really kind of try to move forward. But no, there’s no closure.”

Bell’s message to others in her situation is to reach out to relatives – either in person or through social media such as Facebook and elsewhere online -- if necessary.