In the days after 17-year-old Julie Ferguson was found with her throat slit near a wooded area in Glenn Dale, graffiti began popping up on a trail nearby. Along with peace signs and hearts spray-painted across the asphalt, a question in big yellow letters appeared.
Two decades later, Julie’s friends are still asking that question. But they’re hoping that a candlelight vigil planned for the 20th anniversary of Julie’s death this weekend will renew interest in the unsolved case and perhaps help bring them answers.
“What’s haunted me for years is the fact that it feels like there is no closure because there hasn’t been justice,” said Tracey Still, 35, one of many organizing Saturday’s vigil. “We just hope this brings light to her case to have justice served in her honor. She deserves that, at the very least.”
Julie was last seen about 9:50 p.m. March 20, 1995, at the Greenway Shopping Center in Greenbelt, according to Prince George’s County police. The Eleanor Roosevelt High School junior had just finished work at Linens ’n Things and was waiting for friends to pick her up, police said.
But about 10 p.m., when her ride came, there was no trace of Julie — only some bags and a soda on the sidewalk.
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“Everyone hoped that we could bring it to a close quick,” Nelson said, “but now it’s been 20 years and we’re still in the same predicament we were in from Day One.”
Julie’s friends, 15 or 16 at the time she was killed, are grown now with kids of their own. They look back on her slaying as a moment that shaped the way they act as parents and husbands or wives.
It means their kids get driven to bus stops less than a mile away, children don’t walk to school unless Mom and the dog are with them, and if a spouse is away from home for longer than normal, they’re getting a phone call.
“It has steered the way we raise our own children,” said Dan Casey Jr., 36, who remembers learning of Julie’s death when he saw a television report as he was getting ready to go to Parkdale High School.
Although they knew Julie from different walks of life — some from school, others as childhood playmates — many of those friends came together at a vigil held just after Julie’s killing. A few years ago, some of them created a Facebook page called “Justice for Julie Ferguson.”
But with the anniversary approaching, they wanted to do something more to honor their friend.
On a recent Monday evening, they gathered at one of their homes, trading memories about Julie and planning this weekend’s event as they sifted through a pile of old photos and yearbooks.
They chuckled at the girl who walked to school with plastic bags tied around her feet to keep her Reebok Classics perfectly white. They remembered how Julie was “so cool” because she had her own phone line in the days before everyone had a cellphone. And they tried to wrap their minds around how this happy and breezy girl, who loved going to the beach and listening to music, was taken from their lives.
“It felt like a storm and you were just walking through rubble,” said Julie Epstein, 36, who hosted the planning session at her home. She remembered learning of her friend’s death right before heading to Roosevelt High.
“All the safety and all the security that you might have felt you had just got taken away,” said Christy Noland, 35, who heard of Julie’s death during the school’s morning announcements. “It was so shocking. So violent. So awful.”
Said Still: “My mom made me take self-defense classes.”
Gerald Boarman, who was the principal at Eleanor Roosevelt when Julie was a student there, said her case deeply rattled the tightknit Greenbelt community. Teachers loved her. She always had a smile on her face and worked hard to help support her family. “I don’t think we’ll ever forget it,” Boarman said. “She was a very vivacious young lady who loved life, which is so ironic since it ended so quickly.”
Julie’s death made such an impact on the community that the lot where her body was found became a park named the Julie Ferguson Shelter and Play Area on Daisy Lane, where the vigil will start at 5 p.m.
Nelson, the detective, hopes that with the passage of time, someone who once hesitated to call police will now come forward with information about the case.
“There’s definitely pieces to the puzzle we’re missing in order to shed light on who’s responsible and bring someone to justice,” Nelson said.
Before Ferguson vanished, a witness saw her speak to two black men and a black woman inside a red or burgundy mid-1980s Volkswagen Jetta, Nelson said. He thinks that because her bags were still on the sidewalk, Julie was forced into some sort of vehicle before she died.
About five years after Julie’s death, police identified a person of interest in the case — a white man believed to have been preying on young girls near the University of Maryland. But Nelson said that every attempt to track down that man and the people in the Volkswagen have not turned up any results.
Like Nelson, her friends and family also want justice.
“There are people out there who still care and people who are still looking for answers,” said Noland.
Julie’s mother, Pat Ferguson, said she never thought it would take this long to close her daughter’s case. She plans to be at the vigil and hopes that anyone with the tiniest piece of information about her daughter will come forward.
“It’s very frightening to think that I could die and not know who did it,” said Ferguson, 64. “That is what frightens me the most.”
A reward of up to $25,000 is available for information leading to an indictment or arrest in the case. Anyone with information can call Prince George’s County police at 301-772-4925. To remain anonymous, call 1-866-411-TIPS.