I started Cold Case Advocacy because I was deeply affected by the shocking number of unsolved cold cases and a single family’s 38-year-long struggle to find answers in a New York State cold case. During this journey, I crossed paths with remarkable advocates who shared the same passion for assisting families as I do and we have been supporting each other work ever since. I continue to be inspired by their work, so I wanted to share more with you about the incredible individuals, Stormy and Sellers. founders of the Alabama Cold Case Advocacy (ACCA) organization. They are shining a bright light on Alabama’s unsolved cold cases, bringing hope and determination to the forefront.
What inspired you to start Alabama Cold Case Advocacy, and what were your initial goals for the organization?
We came together through Uncovered to help with creating their database and raise awareness for missing, murdered, and suspicious death cases across the country. We both started working on some of the same projects. But the inspiration for Alabama Cold Case Advocacy (ACCA) really came from a few select Alabama cases that hit close to home for Sellers and, simply put, touched both of our hearts in separate but equally intense ways. In those instances, the connection went beyond mere empathy; it was a heartfelt understanding of the pressing need for awareness surrounding cold cases everywhere. But the one case that really served as the catalyst was the suspicious death of 25-year-old Danniella Vian, whose disappearance from Mobile, AL on July 17, 2018, coincided poignantly with Sellers’ own birthday, The intersection of this tragic event and a personal milestone underscored the urgency of our mission. We envisioned ACCA not only as a response to Danniella’s untimely passing but also as a way to transform the sorrow into something meaningful, a beacon of support and assistance for families sharing similar struggles.
We realized that mere awareness was insufficient. The creation of ACCA was driven by an intrinsic sense of responsibility. This endeavor felt right, almost imperative, as we channeled our energies into forging a path that aligns with our values.
How do you balance the emotional toll of working on unresolved cases with the need to remain focused and objective during investigations?
This is an important question that resonates with the nature of our work. It is often challenging to be objective when you are unearthing the reality of these cases, especially when you are able to speak to those closest to the victims. The cases we focus on are obviously cold cases and, by nature, are cold because something went wrong or information wasn’t found when these souls became lost. And as you dig into these cases, these tragedies, suddenly they become your family too.
The truth is, there are instances where maintaining absolute objectivity and focus can be difficult because the stories we encounter are heart-wrenching. It’s crucial, however, to acknowledge we are human and give ourselves permission to feel and empathize. This empathy is not only essential for our well-being but also for demonstrating our genuine care and compassion to the families enduring unimaginable pain.
Allowing ourselves to feel these emotions is a necessary step, but we also understand the importance of regrouping and returning to an objective perspective. Striking this balance is a continuous process. We know that in order to effectively help families and honor the memory of the victims, we must navigate the factual terrain with objectivity to uncover the truth, wherever it may lead.
In what ways do you collaborate with law enforcement agencies and other organizations to facilitate progress on cold cases?
While it’s not always a straightforward path, we persistently reach out to the law enforcement agencies associated with the cases we focus on. This endeavor has proven to be a challenging process, an experience shared by many. Though many agencies may be hesitant to collaborate with non-law enforcement entities, we have managed to establish slow but promising headway with a select few, which has been encouraging.
Our collaboration often involves sharing the results of our research with these agencies. We recognize the value of a fresh perspective and bring to their attention any information we’ve uncovered that may shed new light on the cases. Additionally, if we receive tips related to the cases, we ensure these are relayed to the appropriate agencies, and we make it a point to publicly acknowledge their contribution. We understand the demanding nature of law enforcement work and the enormity of their caseloads, and we approach our interactions with respect and appreciation for their efforts.
We also network with individuals and organizations equipped with special skills, unique access, or similar missions. This collaborative effort is vital in the true crime and cold case world. We’re fortunate to partner with those like Uncovered, who of course has so many wonderful people with remarkable talents and knowledge. And many others such as Cold Case Advocacy, Unsolved R.I., Moxxy Forensic Investigations, and the Social Detective are just a few in our network who have unbelievable skill and commitment to these cases and families. We recognize that our combined resources and efforts enhance the prospects of finding answers and closure.
What strategies or tools do you utilize to raise awareness about cold cases and engage the public in these investigations?
We employ a range of strategies and tools with a strong emphasis on leveraging the power of social media to connect with a broad audience. Our approach includes sharing compelling graphic summaries, highlighting ongoing cases, and promoting related content, including episodes of our “Unforgotten” podcast across multiple social media platforms. We are continuously enhancing our efforts on these platforms, recognizing that it’s an evolving process.
Furthermore, we collaborate closely with the families of the victims, working together to secure billboards that display information about their loved ones’ unresolved cases. We assist families in devising strategies for disseminating materials like flyers and other avenues for visibility. We also created an “Unsolved” T-shirt, which we update periodically to include the names of victims from the Alabama cases we have in our records. It’s important to note that any proceeds generated beyond production costs are channeled back into our research initiatives and support for the families.
In essence, our approach to raising awareness about cold cases involves a multifaceted approach that encompasses social media engagement, collaboration with families, and innovative awareness-building initiatives like the “Unsolved” T-shirt campaign.
Are there any legal or logistical challenges unique to Alabama that affect the pursuit of justice in cold cases, and how do you address them?
Numerous challenges confront families in Alabama in their pursuit of justice, primarily stemming from the absence of comprehensive policies and procedures for effectively managing and updating case records. For example, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) maintains a statewide database for active missing persons within the state, while the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) operates a nationwide equivalent. However, both databases rely on the investigating agency to provide initial case details and subsequent updates. Presently, a comparison of these databases reveals a disparity of approximately 75 individuals between NamUs and ALEA, with neither database achieving complete accuracy. During our research, we’ve found that certain current missing persons are not documented in either database, while conversely, a few who have been located remain listed. While databases such as these may not seem all that important, these databases serve as pivotal resources, often underutilized, by offering crucial information to the general public.
Unfortunately, a major impediment in Alabama pertains to the state’s “open” records policy. Over time, this policy concerning investigative materials has been progressively constrained to the extent that virtually no records related to investigations are available to the public, including the families. This policy applies not only to ongoing investigations but can extend to concluded ones as well. Our organization has submitted numerous record requests, a substantial portion of which go unanswered. On the rare occasions a response is received, a form letter indicates the unavailability of records under the purview of Alabama legal statutes. Regrettably, there appears to be minimal effort to evaluate whether any information can be released for public scrutiny. Even autopsy reports typically considered public records are challenging to obtain if they are associated with an active investigation. The criteria defining “active” investigations are vague, and the decision of whether to release such records rests entirely within the discretion of the investigating agencies. For families who have endured years of uncertainty, the lack of progress and minimal communication regarding their loved ones’ cases is disheartening and exasperating. These families have no recourse for seeking a second opinion or requesting a review. Consequently, there is often scant communication concerning the status of the case. The emotional frustration experienced by families due to the loss of their loved ones, coupled with a slow-moving investigative timeline and potential interpersonal challenges within the investigation, can culminate in deteriorating relations between families and law enforcement agencies.
The establishment of well-defined policies and procedures for the periodic review of unsolved cases would significantly address these challenges. Mandating agencies to promptly input missing person reports and maintain up-to-date information would ensure that the most precise details are accessible to the public and media outlets. This approach could notably contribute to garnering tips and leads, thereby sustaining public interest in the case. It would be advantageous for Alabama to consider adopting a legislative framework akin to the Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act, albeit with broader applicability encompassing missing persons and suspicious death cases. Such an initiative would afford families the means to petition for a review of their loved ones’ unresolved cases, thereby affording them some comfort in the knowledge that their loved ones and their concerns are not overlooked. This effort could also assist law enforcement agencies by externalizing some cold cases, reducing the backlog, and redirecting resources toward ongoing investigations. To sign the petition to implement an Alabama Homicide Victims’ Family Rights Act, go here.
The incredible women at Alabama Cold Case Advocacy are dedicated to making a profound impact on their families’ lives, and they operate solely as a volunteer-driven organization. In order to sustain their efforts, which include providing updates on cases and creating insightful podcasts independently, they rely on generous individuals like you for support. We kindly ask you to consider making a donation or browsing their online store for merchandise. Every contribution directly contributes to furthering their advocacy work. Most importantly, please stay engaged with their initiatives and help amplify their message by sharing their content across social media platforms and following them on Facebook. Your support can truly make a difference.