It was the kind of crime that leaves people feeling that no place is safe, that the one space where everbody should feel safe—home—is vulnerable to invasion at any time.
It was Aug. 22, 2012, a Wednesday—warm, as summer nights are in suburban Maryland in late summer. Amber D. Stanley, an honor student at Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale, had gone to bed early for a teenager. About 10:30 p.m., police said, an unknown assailant kicked in the front door of the Stanley home in the 100 block of Chartsey Street in Kettering.
He climbed the stairs and somehow made it to Amber’s room before she was able to hide or escape. As she lay in her bed, the unknown suspect opened fire, hitting the teenager several times. She was dead by the time police arrived. Four other people who were in the house at the time escaped without injury.
This week, Prince George’s County police returned to the neighborhood where Amber lived. They passed out fliers, talked to residents and hoped to find a witness who can provide information about the case.
“All murders are obviously important to us on the police department, not just because we work hard to try to solve them, but because of the tragic impact on the families of victims,” said Lt. William Alexander, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County Police Department. “Even though all cases are a priority, this case is more of a priority because this girl was murdered in her home.”
Police believe Amber’s home was targeted. There is no evidence to show that Amber was the one the assailant was looking for, Alexander said.
Investigators believe there are people out there who can shed light on the killing.
“The detectives have some leads that they are trying to work, flesh out,” he said. “It’s not unusual to go into neighborhoods where crimes like this occurred to try to solicit information. Over time, people’s memories may be jogged. The most minor of details that citizens think are innocuous may be the details that blow open a case.”
Wendell C. Watkins Sr., a retired D.C. police chief of detectives and a crime and investigations expert, said it is not unusual for cases to close more than a year after crimes are committed.
“As long as someone is willing to pursue the case, there is always a chance that the truth will present itself,” said Watkins, the crime expert for the National Crime Museum in Washington, D.C.
“Someone knows something and they’ll find it if they keep investigating,” he said. “It seemed like the way that case presented itself, it was going to provide a lot of leads—either someone she knew, or someone who knew one of the other people who were in the house were probably responsible. You just have to stay on it. Keep looking at those leads.”
He said perpetrators often talk about their crimes, either out of guilt or while bragging, and if they fall out of favor with the person they told, often that person will reach out to provide information to police.
He said so called “cold cases” that have gone unsolved for sometime are often resolved after they are assigned to different investigators.
“Generally, the suspect, or the person who we eventually arrested, was listed in the jacket,” he said. “Sometimes, it is just a matter of getting a new set of eyes on the evidence to recognize something that can lead to the case being solved. Sometimes something will pop right out to a new investigator that the person working the case for some time didn’t see.”
Amber’s slaying shocked the region, but it was particularly difficult for her classmates at Flowers, many of whom described her as a friendly, studious girl who hoped to attend Harvard University to study medicine. Her death was the first of six slayings involving high school students in the 2012-2013 school year. The second student killed was Marckel N. Ross, a junior at Central High School, who was gunned down as he walked to school from his home in Capitol Heights. The last student murdered during the spate of violence was Andre W. Shuford, 18, who was fatally shot Feb. 19 in the 3700 block of Donnell Drive in Forestville.
Aaron Kidd, 18, who was shot in the same incident, also died.
“Most of those cases have closed,” Alexander said. “I think Amber Stanley is the only open case involving a high school student.”
Police are optimistic the killer will be found.
“We feel the case will close, but they are looking for some of those little nuggets, minor details that will help them close the case,” Alexander said.
Anyone with information about Amber’s slaying is asked to contact the Prince George’s County Police Department Homicide Unit at 301-772-4925. Callers wishing to provide information anonymously may call Crime Solvers at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).
Watkins will discuss the Boston Strangler case on Aug. 22 on “Mysteries at the Museum,” which airs on the Travel Channel.