WASHINGTON - Loudoun County Sheriff's investigators say they have solved the 12-year-old investigation into Erica Heather Smith's murder.
In late July 2002, the Ashburn teen told her little brother she was going to a friend's house and never returned. Her body was found 11 days later along Broad Run Creek.
Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman says he spoke with Erica's parents to tell them that investigators have linked a now-deceased individual to their death of their daughter, who was 14 years old.
Police say the male killer was known to the family.
"For unknown reasons, the suspect linked to the murder committed suicide during the course of the investigation," according to a sheriff's office statement.
He was not incarcerated at the time he committed suicide. Police did not release his name and would not release additional details about Erica's death.
Chapman tells WTOP that a combination of information "clearly pointed to this one individual as the suspect."
Investigators conducted hundreds of interviews and even went undercover to shed new light on the case. Evidence was resubmitted for forensic analysis and a final review of the timeline helped bring the case to a close, according to the sheriff's department.
"We came to where we would have pursued this case in the court of law. But we'll never get that opportunity," Chapman says.
After becoming sheriff, Chapman started the department's cold case initiative in response to the lingering investigation.
Chapman says he saw Erica's father Pete Smith at a gas station while he was running for sheriff. And that chance meeting prompted Chapman to pledge that he would solve the case.
"I could tell the emotion he was still feeling and this was 10 years later, almost 10 years later at the time, that he was still going through on this and it really had an impact on me," Chapman says. "I told him it would be a priority."
He invited the Smith family to participate in the department's first, but now annual, Child Safety Day and the department has 10 other cold cases now under investigation.
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