Picture courtesy of the French family
Wentworth, NC -- Rockingham Co. Sheriff Sam Page said Tuesday that his department is closing in on whoever killed Troy and LaDonna French.
At a news conference, Page said his investigators now have a DNA profile of the killer, who is a man. The State Bureau of Investigation and the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit helped craft the profile, which was developed after months of waiting for DNA analysis from the state crime lab.
"[DNA] is unique to you," Sheriff Page said. "You can run, but you can't hide from your DNA."
While the sheriff says the killer is undoubtedly a male, he wouldn't say much more. Page wouldn't answers questions about whether the DNA analysis revealed anything else about the killer's identity. What is certain: the DNA doesn't match anything stored in state or national databases. So the sheriff appealed to the community for information.
"We're asking for your help and assistance," he said.
He believes the murderer is still in the area and someone might have seen him with the murder weapon -- a Hi Point 9mm handgun. The gun belonged to one of the victims: Troy French.
Sheriff Page said Troy French told his family in Dec. 2011 that the gun was missing. Authorities aren't sure when exactly the gun disappeared. Page says ballistics confirm the gun was used to kill the well-liked Bethany couple in February. That means the killer likely has a connection to the family, Page said, and might have even known them well enough to get the gun from the house.
And about the attack that left the couple dead? Sheriff Page confirmed it doesn't appear to be random.
"We feel that the attack was directed toward [daughter] Whitley and her mother and father," the sheriff said.
Whitley French has told authorities that in the early-morning hours of Feb. 4, she awoke to a stranger in her bedroom. She told investigators that when she screamed, the intruder ran from her room and her parents ran to her aid. Once downstairs, she said the intruder then began shooting at her parents. Whitley French was treated for a knife wound.
While the DNA hasn't yet given investigators an explicit answer as to who the killer is, it has helped rule out a number of people as triggermen. Sheriff Page said the people they interviewed early on in the case can be ruled out as shooters -- including family members and some of the family's close connections.
"To the person out there who's responsible for this crime," Page said, "I would tell you, 'It's just a matter of time.'"
Just last month, the French family opened an ice cream shop in Wentworth to honor Troy and LaDonna's memories. Ann French, Troy's mother, sat at a table in the middle of the shop then and talked to WFMY News 2 about the strength her family has shown in trying to pull through the tragedy.
"The strength is really not me," she said in September. "It's Christ in me."
She has leaned on every ounce of her faith since her daughter-in-law and son were killed.
"It's hard," she said. "I miss my son. Every time I see a Duke [Energy] truck I take a second look because he was constantly in my life, just like my other two children are.
"But still, we know life goes on. And you have to go on with what's ahead of you."
For her family, forging a new memory is the next priority.
"I want to see people and I want to be able to share with them what has happened in my family," Ann said, "and that you can find faith and go on in life."
Troy and LaDonna's picture hangs over the counter at the new ice cream shop. It's a reminder to every customer of the pain that's led to this perseverance -- not that anyone in this community has forgotten. Every scoop here sends a message -- especially for whoever killed the Frenches.
"I would love to tell them that there's no hatred, that my family holds nothing against them," Ann said. "Whatever it is that motivated them to take my son's life, I would like to see them come to a peace with that and be able to go on in life."
That doesn't mean the family doesn't want the killer punished. Ann said she hopes for resolution and accountability, and she believes the sheriff's office will be able to deliver it.
WFMY News 2