Rosie Gordon, the 10-year-old Fairfax County girl abducted from her Lake Braddock neighborhood one year ago today, may have seen her killer several hours before she was lured away from her prized pink bicycle, according to family members and friends telling the story publicly for the first time.
Rosie's best friend, Aimee Culotti, said in an interview last week that the two were watched by a man in a blue car parked on Lake Braddock Drive about 4 p.m. on July 2, 1989, as they headed toward Rosie's house to get her bicycle. While pedaling back to Aimee's house, they noticed that the car began slowly following them and they ducked into a town house development, she said.
"We just sort of pretended we were playing," said Aimee, 12. "We just kind of said, 'Well, that was scary.' "
Debbie Culotti said her daughter told police about the car after Rosie's bicycle was discovered along Lake Braddock Drive and she was reported missing about 8 p.m. Two residents of the area also told police about the blue car, which they had seen parked on Lake Braddock Drive and later pulling in and out of parking spaces in the town house development, she said.
Friends and family members said they agreed at the time not to discuss the blue car publicly because they did not want to hamper the police investigation. They are willing to discuss it now, they said, because they believe police have named the wrong suspect in the case.
"I'm convinced that there's an excellent chance that the man in the car is the man who abducted Rosie," said her father, Dave Gordon. "I'm also convinced that the man in the car was not Randy Breer."
At a packed news conference last Aug. 18, Police Chief John E. Granfield announced that members of the task force investigating Rosie's slaying and four Northern Virginia sexual assaults had arrested Breer, whom he described as "the person we think is responsible for these crimes." He has not been charged in her asphyxiation.
After the news conference, investigators learned that Breer, a 28-year-old carpenter from Dale City, was attending a party at his employer's house in Stafford County -- about 25 miles away -- when Rosie disappeared. Despite the alibi, police continue to call Breer their "prime suspect."
Since his arrest, Breer has pleaded guilty to the four assaults and has told officials that he molested a fifth young girl in Prince William County, but he has continued to deny that he killed Rosie.
"He feels he's being wrongfully accused," said Breer's attorney, Richard J. McCue. "He doesn't know what he needs to do to convince police that he was not involved in the case . . . . It's very unfair for them to still, at this point, continue to say that he is their prime suspect when they have absolutely no evidence."
McCue, who represented Breer in two of the assault cases, said that to keep naming Breer as the prime suspect is "more grossly unfair than making the announcement in the first place. If they haven't been able to get the evidence in a year, there isn't any."
Fairfax Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who would make the decision about whether to prosecute the case, said he does not believe Breer killed Rosie. "I don't think there's a chance in the world Breer did it," he said.
According to police sources, some in the police department have changed their theory on the case to reflect the alibi, speculating that Rosie ran away and was abducted by Breer later. Her body was found about five miles from her home two days after she was reported missing.
But Horan said there is "no question" that Rosie was abducted the evening of July 2, when her bicycle was found by her father a block and a half from home. On July 2, Breer was at his employer's party in Aquia Harbour from the afternoon until at least 11:30 p.m., he said.
From the beginning, Horan has disagreed publicly with the police department's decision to announce that they had a suspect before charging him. Horan, who watched investigators question Breer during a polygraph examination given in the early morning hours before the news conference, said he had doubts that Breer killed Rosie even before he learned of the alibi.
Horan said he believes the police department became "locked into" a criminal profile drawn by the FBI from evidence gathered in the five cases. "There are a lot of pedophiles out there. There are more than we care to think about," he said.
Maj. Robert T. Murray, commander of the Criminal Investigations Bureau, said Horan is looking at the case from a "different perspective." Asked about the alibi, Murray said he could not discuss any aspect of the investigation.
Although police maintain that Breer is their prime suspect, they also have looked at more than 100 other suspects since Rosie's death and continue to pursue leads as they arise, Murray said. Police also have determined that there is no apparent connection between Rosie's case and the abduction of 5-year-old Melissa Brannen, who disappeared from her apartment complex near Lorton six months later, he said.
"I believe the police should either present their evidence to a grand jury or acknowledge that, in fact, there is little chance that he's the guy," Rosie's father said. "They should either prove it or quit talking about it."
Since the death of his daughter, who was a member of her school safety patrol, Gordon and his wife, Lien, have channeled their energy into Rosie's Patrol, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching people about child safety. So far, there are chapters in Fairfax and Stafford counties, he said.
Debbie and Aimee Culotti do volunteer work for Rosie's Patrol, including distributing fliers seeking information about Melissa, who is still missing. Even though it has been a year, Debbie Culotti said she still cringes when her daughters take off on their bikes. Aimee, who is more protective of her younger sister, said it is still hard to believe that Rosie was killed.
"Rosie's still my best friend even though she's gone," Aimee said. "She's my only best friend."