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Cold case: Searching for Dannarriah Finley's killer, sixteen years later

The unthinkable crime united the city of Orange.

New DNA testing could provide crucial clues into one of Southeast Texas' most notorious cold cases--the kidnapping, rape and murder of 4-year-old Dannarria Finley 16 years ago.

Police told 12News they're more confident than ever they'll find the killer.

Orange police said they believe the person responsible for the killing was someone local, a calculated killer who carefully planned Dannarriah's kidnapping. Investigators still wonder if it was someone she knew, police said.

Just weeks shy of her fifth birthday on July 4, 2002, someone took a 4-year-old Dannarriah Finley from her home in Orange.

"We believe someone came into the middle of the night and removed her from her bed and her house," Orange Police Captain Robert Enmon said.

Enmon was a patrol captain on duty the night of her disappearance.

"The age, the fact that she was taken from her home," he said. "That is something that doesn't happen."

"Nobody can stop the tears or the pain," Dannarriah's mother told 12News in a 2002 interview. She questioned whether she did enough for her daughter, she said.

"Every day. Every day if this wouldn't have happened if I had done something differently," she said.

The unthinkable crime united the city of Orange.

"We did a block-by-block and house-by-house search of the east side of Orange," Enmon said. Today, the family's house is gone. All that's left is an empty lot.

Deborah Mitchell was a family services instructor at Dannarriah's school, the North Orange Early Learning Center.

"As a school, we as a staff came together because when a family is hurting, we wanted to be there," Mitchell said. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it. I have a picture of her in my car that reminds me that years have gone by and nothing has been uncovered."

She said the entire campus came together after Dannarriah's disappearance.

"We helped the family with clothes and anything else we can do," she said. "We were there for the family. They needed community support."

Six days after the kidnapping on July 8, 2002, searchers got horrible news. Finley's body was found on Pleasure Island, wrapped in a sheet.

"It changed the investigation," Enmon said. "It went from a missing girl, possible kidnapping to a kidnapping homicide."

An autopsy determined that Finley had been raped and strangled.

"How could someone do this horrible thing to a child, an innocent child?" Mitchell said. "She was a beautiful little girl and she did not deserve to die the way she did. Her mom and family did not deserve it."

Mitchell remembers Finley for her smile and the future she had ahead of her. She said solving the crime should be everyone's responsibility.

After a huge funeral attended by hundreds, Finley was buried in Orange's Magnolia Cemetery.

Captain Enmon said in the past 18 months, new investigators have taken a look at the cold case.

"We have confidence that something may break soon," he said. "We do feel that we have answered a lot of questions that weren't asked back when she came up missing."

Investigators went back and reviewed every aspect of the case.

"All of the VHSs, I think there was 84 of them, have been transferred over to to digital recordings," he said. "We are seeking new information over this case and also testing old evidence for new DNA."

Enmon said this includes all the evidence found at the crime scene. Improved DNA technology could be the key to finally figuring out who was involved.

"The DNA has helped us re-interviewing some people, and we've come up with some new information and new questions," he said.

"It will never be the same here," her mom said.

Dannarriah's mother left Orange without knowing who was responsible. Mitchell said the murder changed her forever.

"It heightened my awareness and my thought process on how people can be so horrible to children," Mitchell said. "If you are out there, and you did this to this child and community, give yourself up and allow this family to have closure and peace."

Police hope someone watching knows something that can help after all these years. Anybody with information should call the Orange Police Department or CrimeStoppers at (409) 833-TIPS.