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Unsolved murder frustrates parents, detective

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Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 2:30 pm | Updated: 4:12 pm, Wed Oct 19, 2011.

SOUTH PORTLAND - In the Richardson home in South Portland, a hutch on one wall of the dining room fills to overflowing with family photos. Among them, one face stands out, beaming broadly, instantly capturing attention with a smile that is so bright, so full of life.

Her name is Darien Richardson. A 2002 graduate of South Portland High School, she died in early 2010 from injuries sustained in a shooting that remains unsolved, much to the dismay of her family and the Portland detective investigating the shooting, all of whom are shocked at the lack of movement in the case.

The Richardsons last week launched a website - rememberingdarien.org - which they hope will lead to the capture and conviction of the man who murdered their daughter, or at least help others who are suffering in the same way.

Sitting at the table, in a chair placed before the hutch, Darien's mother, Judi Richardson, dabs a tissue to an eye and tries to hold back the tears.

"I don't want it to be two years," she said, pausing to choke back a sob. "I don't want to be two years and still not know."

Beside her, Darien's father, retired Verizon technician Wayne Richardson, reaches out a hand for comfort.

"We don't understand why there's no outrage in the community," he said quietly, as if trying to suppress his own mounting frustration. "The thing is, whoever did this is still out there - someone who has it in him to walk into somebody's bedroom in the middle of the night and shoot them, not even caring. This is someone who clearly could do this again, to anyone, at any time."

Which is where the website comes in. The site has two goals. One is to raise reward money, in hopes that someone will come forward with new information in the case. The other is to support a nonprofit founded by the Richardsons, to give aid to other victims of violent crime in Maine.

Coincidentally, the Richardsons' efforts coincide with a new push in the case by Portland police. On Sept. 30, Maryann Bailey and Scott Dunham, detectives with the Portland Police Department, canvassed the Deering neighborhood where Darien Richardson lived with two roommates, posting handwritten "door hangers" to solicit fresh leads.

As of Friday, no one had called, said Bailey.

"This has been a really unique case, because people just aren't talking about it," said Bailey. "Usually, people will call and say, I heard this, I heard that, have you done this, have you done that. But in this case, that just never happened.

"It's disturbing," said Bailey. "I'm sure there are people who know who did this, and they are not coming forward. I think it comes right down to fear. I think people are afraid of retribution."

The recent work, Bailey said, is simply to keep the event fresh in people's minds, in hopes those who know what happened won't forget.

"Right now, we're just hoping someone will recall seeing something unusual in the neighborhood, or hearing afterward what happened, as far as the reason for this," said Bailey. "That information could be crucial to resolving what happened."

What happened is this:

On Jan. 8, 2010, Darien Richardson, then 25, was asleep in her bedroom on the second floor of the 25 Rackleff St. duplex she shared with two childhood friends. With her was her new boyfriend, Cory Girard.

"Everything we heard about him was positive," said Judi Richardson. "Nobody ever told us anything might be wrong."

At about 1:30 a.m., two people entered the bedroom, and fired "several" shots at the couple from a single .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Girard was grazed in the arm. Richardson was shot twice. According to her mother, one bullet "blew her thumb off." The other entered her thigh, traveled up her leg, and lodged in her hip. Richardson was in intensive care for two days, and in the hospital for another 18, recovering from her wounds. By February, still out of work on disability and having broken up with Girard while in the hospital, Richardson was well enough to visit a friend in Florida.

"She was always such a positive person," said her mother. "She was like, I'm going to recover from this. I'm going to go on."

The trip was meant as a way to reboot, emotionally, but while there, Richardson suffered a sudden and fatal pulmonary embolism -essentially a blockage of blood flow to the lungs caused by a blood clot in the legs that had broken loose. Although it happened a month later, medical examiners said Richardson's death was a direct result of the gunshot wound.

Because there was no apparent forced entry into Richardson's apartment, because her roommates were not disturbed, and because nothing was stolen, police have speculated that the assailants were familiar with the layout of the duplex.

At a June 2010 press conference, James Craig, then the chief of Portland police, strongly intimated Girard may have known who fired the fatal bullet, suggesting that drugs could have been involved.

"She [Darien] was not involved in any kind of drug activity," he said, "but that could be a possibility with the other individual [Girard]. That's part of our investigation.

"We suspect that possibly the gentleman, the other victim, may have additional information, but we haven't gotten it from him," said Craig, at the time.

By last week, Girard still wasn't talking.

"We've never been able to get any useful information out of him," said Bailey, adding that police have since lost track of Girard, beyond believing that he is still, "in the general area."

However, Bailey said, her department does have physical evidence from the crime - she won't say exactly what it may be, for fear of hampering the investigation - that could be used to link somebody to the scene, if they can just get the right tip.

"All we're looking for is that one little thing that will tie the pieces together," she said.

Police also have tracked the assailant from the other end. Bailey is light on specifics, again for fear of hobbling the case, but she does acknowledge that the murder weapon was purchased new "about a year" before Richardson was shot. Police have spoken to the original owner, who sold the gun legally and has been cleared of any wrongdoing. Bailey won't say how many times the weapon changed hands, or exactly when the trail goes cold, if it does.

The weapon is now in police custody, having been used by Daudoit Butsitsi on Feb. 10, 2010, to kill Serge Mulongo in Portland. The connection came out this summer during Butsitsi's murder trial, at which time he went mum on how he obtained the gun.

Because of his refusal to answer questions from the judge, Butsitsi, who was found guilty, may face a separate contempt of court charge. His attorneys have filed an appeal, Bailey said, based, at least in part, on the inadvertent release of the Richardson connection during his trial. For that reason, Bailey declined to discuss the case further.

"I am still hopeful that I will get a chance to interview him," she said. "It is very odd to have one weapon used in two shootings so closely together, only about a month apart."

Whether it is Butsitsi who provides the key to crack the case, or an anonymous tip from someone they will never meet, the Richardsons just want the killer behind bars.

"I don't think it will bring closure," said Judi Richardson. "You never have closure when you lose a child, I don't think. But it's frustrating knowing someone's out there, and we don't know who they are, but we know what they are capable of doing.

"It's the unknowing that's so unsettling," she said. "In January, it'll be two years since the shooting, and people don't remember, especially the young people. They'll forget the details and they'll move on, as if nothing ever happened."

But the family refuses to forget. Richardson was working in the insurance industry at the time of her death, hoping to get back into teaching, her field of choice in which she had worked just one brief year after graduating from Bowdoin College, until budget cuts forced her to shift gears.

"She had taken graduate classes at UNE (University of New England) and wanted to get back into teaching some day," said Judi Richardson. "Education was very important to her."

So important, in fact, that the Richardsons have created a scholarship fund in their daughter's name at South Portland High School. Four students were granted awards last year. Donations to the memorial fund can be made by calling the high school.

"If nothing else, we hope the memory of our daughter can be used to do some good for others," said Judi Richardson.

That seems appropriate, given Darien Richardson's bright, if all too brief, life.

"I know it's a cliché, but she really did light up a room just by walking into it," her father said. "People were just immediately drawn to her. That's how we'll remember her, always."

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