For Murdered Girl's Sister, Missing Children's Day A Reunion With Family-Like Investigators
It can be hard for family members to move on with their own lives after a child’s is taken from them. At this week’s Missing Children’s Day commemoration in Tallahassee, a woman talked to WFSU about trying to do just that and the investigator she credits for helping ease her journey.
AleenaFullwood can’t name just one favorite video game.
“The Final Fantasy series, I love that. Kingdom Hearts series,Dynasty Warriors—all the Koei games—Warriors Orochi, Samurai Warriors,” she rattles off.
The 20-year-old art student says she wants to design games for a living.
“They were kind of my escape, and now I want to develop ‘em so that maybe I can help somebody else escape,” she says.
It’s been eight years since Fullwood’s little sister, Coralrose, was found dead near their family’s North Port, Florida, home. Aleena was 12 years old.
She remembers, “It’s Sunday and we have to go to Hebrew school, and what happens is while we’re trying to find everyone and get everybody ready, we can’t find Coralrose.”
A neighbor was eventually convicted of her assault and murder and is serving life in prison, North Port police say. Also shortly after the crime, detectives found unrelated child pornography on the children’s father’s computer. The state put them in foster care, Fullwood says, and at the time, she wasn’t given an explanation.
“And it was like not even a month after everything had happened,” she says, “and it was just one shock after another shock after another.”
These days, she says she’s doing OK. Outside a tent at the Florida Capitol, she’s holding two long-stem roses. A photo of Coralrose hangs around her neck, marking her as a Missing Children’s Day family member.
Aleena Fullwood says the somber annual ceremony is her chance to grieve and to heal alongside other families who understand. That bond, she says, also extends to the investigators who worked Coralrose’s case. One of them, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agent Al Danna, greets her with a smile and a hug.
Fullwood says to him, “You don’t seem to keep it as like, ok, well you’re an officer on the case, and kind of detached. You, like, integrate yourself into our family. It’s like now you’re an uncle, and you will always be seen as an uncle.”
Danna says, “Every year we come back, we see the family.”
Maybe that personal touch helped earn Danna this year’s Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner’s Award at the state ceremony. He’s officially retiring but says he can’t help but stay involved as a teacher and consultant.
“I take pride in training the other young guys that are gonna take my spot, ‘cause I’m calling it quits after 40 years, and I’ve trained them how to do it, and they’ll carry on and hopefully stop child molesters and recover kids,” he says.
Aleena Fullwood says the annual awards, given to heroes like Danna, also serve an important purpose for families like hers.
“To have the awards right before the remembrance feels like it’s going up,” she says. “And you have that hope that the people that are still missing will still be found, with all these wonderful people.”
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists more than 300 Florida kids whose families don’t know where they are.
A North Port Police spokesman says police suspect more people were involved in Coralrose Fullwood’s murder eight years ago. Although law enforcement have not been able to establish probable cause against additional suspects, police say they will reopen the case in light of any new evidence.