If you drive in South Los Angeles, youve probably spotted the sprinkling of billboards depicting a young woman smiling brightly in her high school graduation picture.
The photo is of 21-year-old Los Angeles resident Nicole Harvey, who became a victim of a homicide last January. Her killer or killers have yet to be found.
Harvey, who was an employee and a student at Los Angeles Southwest Community College, was waiting for a bus on January 26, 2007 around 8 a.m. at the corner of 45th Street and Western Avenue. But around 2:15 p.m. Harveys smoldering body was discovered in the 8100 block of Tuscany Avenue in Playa Del Rey. Harvey had been shot multiple times before her body was set on fire.
On the day she disappeared, Harvey called her bosses at the Child Development Center where she worked and told them she had a family emergency and would not be coming to work.
Detectives said they are unsure of Harveys whereabouts between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., but they believe that Harvey met the suspect or suspects between that time and that she most likely knew her killer.
Detective Orlando Martinez of the Los Angeles Police Departments robbery-homicide division, who has been assigned to the case, said that Harveys body was found on the curb of a quiet residential street. A construction worker found the burning pile of rubbish and he thought it was trash, said Martinez. When he tried to put the flames out with a fire extinguisher, he realized that it was a human body. Someone had lit Nicole on fire and a coroner was notified to take her body away, said Martinez.
Martinez said that although a year has passed since Nicoles murder, detectives are still searching for the person or persons responsible for her death. No leads have been uncovered in the case. Ive been talking to Nicoles friends and family and anyone who may have known Nicole, said Martinez. But when you get to the point when youre stuck, you find yourself talking to the same people over and over again.
In February, the County Board of Supervisors offered a reward of $50,000 for information leading to Harveys killer. She loved her job, her family, and her church, Harveys mother, Carmel Miller, told reporters at a City Hall news conference after the reward was announced.
My daughter was shy, but she was very musically inclined, Miller recalls. During the last few months of her life, she had gotten closer to the church. She and my other daughter, Michelle, used to perform at church concerts. She was a big fan of Kirk Franklins music.
Miller, a schoolteacher, said she and her two daughters were scheduled to sing that Sunday at a celebration for a friend in Rancho Cucamonga. After she had taken Nicole to dinner Thursday night, Miller said she dropped her daughter at a local laundromat. Nicole called after she had washed her clothes. Miller said she picked her daughter up and drove her back to a friends house where she was temporarily staying.
I assumed that Friday morning, Nicole had taken the bus to school, like she usually did, stated Miller, who said that it was not until later that she learned that Nicole had called in sick to work.
Miller recalls turning on the television in her classroom that Friday afternoon and listening to a disturbing news report. The report said that a young womans burned body had been found in Playa Del Rey. The news cameras showed a white sheet over the body. A strange feeling came over me, said Miller. I kept thinking, What a terrible incident. That family is going to be very distraught when they find out what happened to their daughter. Not for one minute did I think that the child underneath that sheet was my child, said Miller.
Worried that she was unable to reach her daughter, Miller said she started repeatedly called Nicoles cell phone on Friday afternoon. Then I tried to reach her several times on Friday night, because I wanted all of us to get together to rehearse the song on Saturday that we were going to sing, but I was unable to reach her.
Although she was worried about Nicole, Miller attended two funerals on Saturday. I still couldnt reach Nicole. The minutes on her phone had run out, she recalls.
After leaving the funerals, Miller again checked her cell phone. There were all these messages from my husband, she recalls. When I phoned him, he said detectives had been trying to reach me all day.
When the detectives arrived at her home, Miller said that she was stunned at the news they announced. They told me Nicole was deceased. I was so shocked, I couldnt really react. I said, You must have the wrong person.
Police report that although Nicoles body had been burned, one of her hands was still untouched by the flames and they were able to make a positive identification. Because she was a child-care worker, they were able to identify her through her fingerprints, said Miller.
Police reported that when Harvey was found, she was nude from the waist down. She had been shot and then whoever shot her set her on fire. They tried to cover up the crime, said Miller.
Since the murder, Miller said that she has been trying to piece together what happened to her daughter. Nicole was a very trusting, kind individual. I feel that she must have been standing at the bus stop and someone came along that she knew. She was not the type to get into a car with a total stranger.
Police theorize that Harvey was murdered at another location and then driven to Playa Del Rey. The detectives feel that whoever committed the crime lives in South Central because there was no blood at the scene.
In order to catch the killer, Miller said that several billboard companies have donated space featuring Nicoles picture and a phone number of the detectives working on the case. Nearly 50 billboards are being displayed with Harveys photo in South Los Angeles.
A lot of billboard companies have been helping us to try to bring the killer or killers to justice, said Miller. They include Clear Channel, Vista Media, John Evans Companies, and General Outdoor Advertising.
Miller said that her family has been shattered by the murder. My brain never stops thinking about what happened to Nicole, said Miller. Our family still doesnt have any closure because we still dont know what happened.
Miller and her family are disturbed that their daughters murder has not garnered national attention. I feel that if this was a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl, there would be more news coverage about her case, said Miller. Im not playing the race card, but every time you heard about Natalie Holloway (the blond girl who was missing in Aruba), it was all over the news.