DNA has helped solve the 1995 murder of a 14 year-old girl raped and shot dead on the way to school – but cops have discovered that her killer died before being brought to justice.
Detectives used DNA testing and genealogy tools to finally identify Kelvin Arnold as the killer of Atlanta schoolgirl Nacole Smith. But Arnold, who also raped a 13 year-old girl in 2004, died of cancer last year at 48-years-old, before he could be apprehended.
In 1995, Smith was on her way to school when she cut through some woods on the city’s southwest side and was beaten, raped and shot to death twice in the face, police said.
In 2002, former Atlanta police Detective Vince Velazquez dug into the case and got a break in 2004, when DNA evidence on an attack on a 13-year-old young girl, called Betty Brown, in nearby East Point, Georgia, matched evidence in the Atlanta killing. However, it took police years to identify a suspect.
‘There are literally boxes, and boxes, and boxes of data and reports and evidence that has been analyzed as it pertains to this case,’ homicide commander Ralph Woolfolk told the Daily Beast on Tuesday after announcing the suspect and lauding investigators’ efforts in solving the two-decade long mystery.
‘You can see the incredible persistence and the resilience, and just the relentless follow through, not only from these detectives but also a family that’s endured something like this for 26 years. We can only imagine as to how that might feel today—being able to get some type of answers as to what has happened here,’ he added.
Nacole Smith, 14, was on her way to school in 1995 when she was raped and shot twice in the face by Arnold in the woods in East Point, Georgia
Atlanta police used DNA testing and genealogy tools to finally identify suspect Kelvin Arnold, who died last year at 48-years-old, police said at a news conference. He was never charged or convinced in connection to Smith’s rape and murder in 1995 and Brown’s attack in 2004
Betty Brown was attacked when she was 13-year-olds in nearby East Point, Georgia
In the aftermath of Smith’s brutal murder, ‘hundreds’ of people were interviewed by Atlanta police, according to authorities. At least 50 people’s DNA samples were collected, but attempts to find a matching profile to the sample police had were unsuccessful.
The case went cold until Atlanta Police Department detective Vince Velazquez revived it in 2002.
Police worked to publicize the case, which got attention from the TV show ‘America’s Most Wanted,’ Velazquez recalled Tuesday.
When Velazquez retired from the police department in 2017, Detective Scott Demeester took over much of the work. Using genealogy records, Demeester worked to develop a person of interest and obtained a sample of his DNA.
Shortly after Christmas, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s forensic lab was able to match the suspect’s DNA to evidence in the case.
The man police believe killed the teenager died in Fulton County, Georgia, in August 2021 after being in hospice care with liver and kidney failure, police said.
Arnold, who would have been 23 when he allegedly raped and killed Nacole, did not have any other crimes linked to his record. He was never arrested or charged in either case linked to Nacole’s murder.
Niccole’s mother Acqunellia Smith at a news conference held on Tuesday to announce the breakthrough in her daughter’s case
Police did not name the suspect during Tuesday’s news conference, saying they wanted the focus to be on the girl and her family.
‘I’ll live with this pain for the rest of my life,’ said her mother, Acqunellia Smith. ‘Just taking one day at a time.’
Betty Brown said through tears that she didn’t want her attacker’s discovery to get to her even though she felt some sort of consolation regarding the news.
‘I am so conflicted because on the one hand I want to rise above and not let this control me, but on the other hand I want his family to suffer, because he’s not here to suffer,’ she said.
‘I want them to feel the pain that my family has felt for years, knowing that that man that you loved, that you appreciated, that you respected, did something so horrible to me and Nacole and I want you to live in that. I want you to wear that like I did, like I do every day of my life.’