Dannarriah Finley would have been 15 years old on her birthday July 22, but her life was taken from her when she was just four years old.

All that remains of the young girl’s life is memories and a few belongings. Her gravesite marks the place where her tiny body was buried. Among the pine needles is a photo of her during happier times and some faded flowers.

The house where she once lived was destroyed in 2005 during Hurricane RIta when a tree fell through it. SInce then the city of Orange has removed the remains of the place she called home.

As the nation was celebrating the 4th of July holiday, Dannarriah’s killer had plans of their own and had taken her from her bed.

Jamie Arnold, Dannarriah’s mother, reported her missing  from their residence located in the 1000 block of 4th Street. Arnold told investigators she had last seen her daughter asleep at 4 a.m.  in a white floral shirt and purple shorts. When she awoke at about 10 a.m., her daughter was nowhere to be found.

Arnold told the officers she often left the front door unlocked at night because her mother often came by the house.

The gravesite where Dannarriah Finley is now the final resting place for the little girl who once stole the hearts of many. RECORD PHOTO: Debby Schamber

Once the news was out, the city was flooded with volunteers to help search for the four-year-old girl with the shy smile and long braids. Some volunteers brought helicopters and horses. But, it was a pipeline inspector on July 8th who discovered a body in a remote part of Pleasure Island in Port Arthur.

Everyone held their breath while they waited for autopsy result. Their worst fears came true when it was determined the body was indeed Dannarriah’s even though she was 27 miles from  her residence.

Autopsy results would also confirm she was sexually assaulted before being strangled to death. It is believed the suspect wrapped her body in a pink, flowered bed sheet. Orange police officers distributed a picture of a sheet similar to the one used in the crime in hopes someone would have some information on the case. The manufacturer had discontinued the pattern.

In the days that followed a funeral service was planned at Mount Zion Baptist Church. More than 700 mourners arrived to say goodbye. Her tiny body lay in a white casket next to several school photos along with about a dozen pink floral arrangements.

Dannarriah’s mother and father, Johnny Edwards, sat in the front pew near the casket. Also in attendance were her sisters which were ages 2, 6, and 8 years old at the time.

Danniarrah attended North Early Learning Center in the pre-kindergarten program. Teachers at the center lovingly put a photo album together filled with pictures of various school functions. The album was then presented to her family.

Detectives from Port Arthur joined forces with OPD to work on the case. Also involved was the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Texas Rangers.

Investigators take the case from the shelves of boxes about every six months in hopes to take another look and perhaps see something different. If a new tip comes in then it is investigated.

For Sarah Jefferson-Simon, OPD investigator, this is the case she wants to see solved before she retires. She finds herself saying a prayer and thinking about it often and especially on the anniversary and during the holidays.

It may be the latest technology in forensic analysis which may be the key to solving the case.

“From experience, we have learned technology has moved forward and this case will be solved forensically in a laboratory,” said  John Kimbrough, Orange County District Attorney. “ A case is only as good as the initial investigation.”

According to Kimbrough, the evidence was collected thoroughly and preserved.

“I hope and pray justice will be served,” he added.

For all the officers involved, the gift of closure for the family is one they hope to achieve. For them it is seeing the relief and expressions on their face which can make it all worthwhile.