By Jimmie Ferguson
Killeen Daily Herald
Eight years ago today, the news that a body believed to be that of a missing 7-year-old Marlboro Elementary School student was found near the Lampasas River Bridge on Texas Highway 195 sent shock waves through volunteers gathered at the Heidi Search Center headquarters in Killeen.
Some wept. Others stood in silent disbelief.
Gala Thompson, the mother of Danydia Betty-Jacqueline Thompson also known as Nee-Nee fainted and was transported to a local hospital, where she was treated and released.
James Thompson, the girls father, remained hopeful that his daughter was still alive.
But no one knew how Danydias sister, Danyel Hallett, then 13; and her brother, Dylane Thompson, then 9, felt. No one asked.
On Thursday, Dylane, now 17, and Danyel, now 21, not only recounted that day, May 8, 1997, but also the horrifying day the previous week when their sister failed to meet them after school.
Dylane said he didnt remember exactly what he was doing eight years ago today. I know my parents and everybody else were like real jumpy and everything, he said.
For me, it was like my whole body just shut down. I couldnt think straight. I was speechless the whole time.
Dylane said he and his little sister were very close. We had our ups and downs like any other sister and brother, but I could never, ever think that something like that would happen to her. I loved her so much. We were unseparable, said Dylane, as he choked up.
On the morning of April 30, 1997, Killeen police believed Danydia left the schools playground with a man shortly after eating breakfast at the school. She was last seen about two blocks from the school, supposedly riding piggyback on her abductor near the intersection of Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Jefferies Avenue in Killeen. She did not appear to be in danger.
While police reports seem clear on the girls whereabouts preceding her disappearance, Killeen school officials said they were not sure if the girl was at school when the abduction took place.
Yet, Danydias presence at school was verified not only by Dylane, who ate breakfast with her, but also classmates and at least one school staff member.
On Thursday, Dylane remembered walking to school that day with Danydia, his older sister, Danyel, and his two cousins, as usual. We always waited for Nee Nee after school. And that day, we had waited for a long time, before we decided to walk home, thinking she had already gone to our grandmothers house, he said. But when we got there, she wasnt there.
Dylane said they got worried and went back to the school looking for his baby sister and asking around about her. She couldnt be found.
Danyel was a seventh-grader at Manor Middle School.
Normally, when I walked home from Manor, I would see my sister, my brother and my two cousins walking home by the time I got to the corner, and we all kind of raced to the house, Danyel said. But that day, they didnt have Nee Nee with them. And we knew something was kind of funny, so my aunt and I, we walked back to Marlboro, and they (school staff) said she was marked absent, but we knew she had gone to school that morning. Like in my heart, I already knew what I didnt want to know.
The grassy patch of earth where the search for Danydia ended May 8, 1997, has changed a lot in the past years.
The only evidence of the grisly discovery that sent a collective gasp reverberating through Killeen following an exhaustive nine-day manhunt, is a faded white cross covered with a small teddy bear attached and a bouquet of artificial flowers at its side, all hidden by an overgrowth of weeds.
A 2001 high school graduate sometime ago placed a graduation pendant and chain on the cross. It is a peaceful site, accented by the tall weeds dancing in the breeze created by cars whooshing by. The remains were found by a team from the San Antonio-based Heidi Search Center.
On Thursday, Dylane and Danyel were there pressing down the tall grass to where the cross again could be seen by passing motorists.
Dylane said its difficult for him to visit the site. I never get the chance to come out here, because theres nobody ever coming this way, said the Killeen High School freshman, who resides with his father in Killeen. Every time I get the chance to come, I will. I would gladly come.
Dylane said Thursdays visit was very meaningful to him. It brings back the times that we had before all this ... like all the good times, and even some of the bad times is still good, he said.
From the day Nee Nee came up missing until the day we had her funeral, every day was the same a big blur because you didnt want to think about anything else but her coming home, said Danyel, whose mother resides at Fort Stewart, Ga.
On May 8, 1997, Danyel recalled her parents trying to hide the news of their sisters body possibly being found. She recalls it took a couple of weeks before it was confirmed that the remains were really those of her sister.
I was in shock. I couldnt believe it, she said. You watch FBI mysteries and things like that, but you will never think that something that tragic would happen to you and your family. It felt like the whole world had come down on me. I felt like nothing. I mean, I couldnt feel.
Still today, Danyel said when people talk about her sisters death, she gets upset. Just imagine how hysterical and upset we were back then, she said. We were younger and understood what was going on, but at that time, I didnt want to understand the fact that my little sister wasnt ever coming home.
As the years pass, Danyel said its hard, because they havent found the man who did it.
Ive kind of lived with the fact that my sister is in a better place, but it still kind of hurts that hes still out there, she said. I dont know how she died or who did it or anything like that. I keep wondering where he (the killer) is or whether hes locked up somewhere.
Its good to know that people still care, even though it didnt happen to them, Dylane said. Its good to know that those on the outside still care about things like that.
KPD Sgt. Reese Davis said Danydias case is still a priority with his department.
At the time of Danydias tragic death, Davis was a detective newly assigned with the KPD Youth Service Unit. I was just transferred out here, so I did follow-up leads and follow-up interviews and assisted in the case investigation, he said.
I worked on some follow-up leads until I was transferred out of the section in 1998, he said. But other detectives who have been assigned out here have completed follow-up leads. Any time a lead comes through, it is actively investigated and followed up on very aggressively.
Today, Davis is the sergeant in charge of the KPD Youth Service Unit.
This is a case that still burns with us, Davis said. Danydia was one of our children in our community. She was missing. She died. We want the people or the person responsible for this to come to justice.
Until theres a final resolution and a person is brought to justice, this case will always be open. It will always be active, Davis said. Any leads will always be aggressively investigated.
Davis said the last lead came in about two to three years ago.
As time goes by, people in this somewhat transient community seem to forget, but we will never forget, Davis said. There was a core of us who were actively on the case, and we indoctrinate some of the new detectives that come in on what took place, so that there is always a torch thats passed on that we are not going to forget.
Danydias abductor was described as a dark-complected black man, 25 to 26 years old, about 5 feet 10 and weighing 150 pounds. His hair was in a short Afro about 3 inches in length. He had a slender nose and a thick mustache that reached the corners of his mouth. He was wearing a black, waist-length jacket, black, baggy jeans and light-colored tennis shoes.
Contact Jimmie Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org