It has been six months since Nancy Dunning was found shot to death at her Alexandria home, and her husband, Sheriff James H. Dunning, says each day has been a struggle for him and his family.
"Her death leaves a huge void in our family and in our community," Dunning, 54, said in a brief interview last week. "She was a remarkable woman loved not only by us but by so many other people. We miss her every day."
The sheriff was one of dozens of family members and friends honoring the popular real estate agent at two events last week: a scholarship awards ceremony at T.C. Williams High School and a candlelight vigil in her beloved Del Ray neighborhood.
For relatives and friends who gathered for the vigil last night to mark the anniversary of the Dec. 5 slaying, there are constant reminders of Nancy Dunning in the neighborhood she loved: the farmer's market she helped start, the homes she sold, the commercial district she helped revitalize.
"It's like you turn and you almost see her standing there," said Gayle Reuter, a friend who helped organize the vigil and raise a $100,000 reward to help find her killer. "She had such a presence. It's hard for a day to go by without thinking about her."
It is not only the way she lived that people remember. They remain haunted by the way she died. Dunning, 56, was found lying in the foyer by the front door of her home, shot several times. Police said they believe that her slaying was not random and that she was targeted. One theory investigators are pursuing is that someone was paid or recruited to kill her, according to law enforcement sources.
"We feel someone close to Mrs. Dunning may have some very important information," said Capt. John Crawford, a spokesman for the Alexandria police. "We hope they will think very hard and recall an event or conversation that may be significant to our investigation."
No matter how trivial the information, Crawford said, it could be the link that detectives are seeking.
Crawford said police have not identified a man captured on videotape by a surveillance camera at the Target store where Nancy Dunning had gone shopping before a scheduled lunch date with her husband and son, Chris Dunning, 23.
Police said Nancy Dunning and the man were observed in the same area of the store and exited simultaneously at 10:30 a.m. The man, seen in the videotape talking on a cell phone, left the store without purchasing anything. When Dunning failed to show up for lunch at the Atlantis Restaurant in the Bradlee Shopping Center about an hour later, her husband and son went to the home and found Dunning lying on the floor.
Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel said that several agencies are involved in the investigation and that it is not a cold case.
"I am satisfied this investigation is proceeding appropriately and that efforts thus far have narrowed the field," he said.
Since the slaying, Jim Dunning has spoken with police to provide information, said his attorney, Plato Cacheris.
"He's been totally cooperative. He has discussed his views with the police department," said Cacheris, adding that Dunning met with police as recently as two weeks ago. "We would very much like to have the matter resolved."
Chris Dunning and his sister, Liz, said they have rarely spoken to police regarding the investigation.
"They're not particularly proactive in keeping me or my brother informed," Liz Dunning, 27, said last week. Her brother said he stopped calling the police department for information. "I would get upset that they didn't have anything new," he said.
Chris Dunning said he has become increasingly pessimistic that police will find the person who killed his mother. If a $100,000 reward has not brought people forward, "it's not going to happen," he said.
"I'm not counting the days anymore. This is murder for hire," he said. "That's not going to be solved easily."
Like their father, the Dunning children say each day has been a struggle.
"We're spending a lot of time together. We're doing a lot of talking and a lot of listening," Liz Dunning said. "But it's a really big hill to climb."
The siblings spoke of a mother they dearly loved who they said was the central part of their family life.
"I love my dad very much and he's an amazing father, but for all three of us, she was that person who kept track of every detail of our life and invested in our life," Liz Dunning said. "It's hard -- I can't even wrap my head around a lot -- I don't think my dad can and my brother can."
Chris Dunning has followed his mother into the real estate business and now sits at her former desk at McEnearney Associates. He said he finds it comforting to sit there with all her pictures intact, including photos of her children and husband.
Together, the three family members, along with Patty Moran, 58, one of Nancy Dunning's sisters, stood on the auditorium stage at T.C. Williams High School on Wednesday night as they awarded a scholarship in her name. It was the same stage on which Nancy Dunning stood a year before, when she awarded a scholarship in memory of her mother and father-in-law, who had died within a week of each other.
Moran said she hopes that the tributes to her sister will keep her memory alive and that they "will get people to come forward."
Moran's daughter, Kate Moran, 28, said: "The hardest part is not knowing. We don't know why this had to happen. I may have to face the fact that we may never know."
She paused, then said that if they do find out, "that is another can of worms that can be opened."