‘There is no closure’: Mother still seeks justice 20 years after daughter’s death

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Clues still sought in 20-year-old New Kent County cold case homicide

NEW KENT COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Sara Bruehl had just graduated from Atlee High School in 1999.

The 18-year-old Hanover teen was driving back home from Virginia Beach with her two friends when she was shot and killed on Interstate-64.

8News spoke with Sara’s mother, who visited the gravesite of her late daughter on the 20-year-anniversary of her death. For the past two decades, she said she can’t help but wonder the type of woman her daughter would be were she still alive today.

“I think she would’ve had a family,” Chris McIlwee said. “Her dream was to have a floral design shop. She loved having flowers and designing flowers.”

McIlwee frequents her daughter’s grave to remember her and reflect on a life that could have been.

Chris McIlwee

“I do the flowers myself,” she said of the flowers displayed at the gravesite. “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. But, I try to do it as nice as I can. I know she’s watching over me and helping me out.”

On August 8, 1999, police say Bruehl and two friends were traveling on I-64 near exit 205 (Bottoms Bridge).

Based on witness statements and other information gathered during the investigation, police believe Sara and the driver of a red car had engaged in a “cat-and-mouse” game of speeding up, slowing down and changing lanes over about a 20-mile stretch of I-64.

Police said both vehicles were heading eastbound when the other driver pulled up in the right lane next to Sara’s vehicle, rolled down the driver’s side window, and shot four times into the Nissan Sara was driving.

The suspect sped away in the eastbound lanes of I-64 as the Nissan ran off the right side of the interstate at Exit 205 and struck a tree.

Sara was killed. Two women traveling inside the vehicle with Sara were injured but survived.

Virginia State Police released a sketch of a person of interest back in 1999.

The driver was described by police as a light-skinned African-American or Hispanic male, with dark eyes and a goatee. The driver’s vehicle was described as a small, red car with tinted windows and halogen lights. 

Sgt. Keeli Hill, a spokeswoman with Virginia State Police said detectives still don’t have many leads, but the decades-old cold case remains an active and ongoing investigation.

“We know somebody has information out there,” Hill said. “We know that there’s valuable information that they have.”

Captain Tim Ring, VSP BCI Richmond Field Office Commander said: “We know there are people out there today, even 20 years later, who know who was responsible for taking this young girl’s life and injuring her friends.”

“State police is still committed to identifying this individual and bringing him to justice, he added. “We owe it to Sara and her family to solve this case once and for all. That’s why we are still pursuing leads and still asking for people to come forward with any information they may have to share on this drive-by shooting.”

Still a grieving mother, McIlwee says her life is now lived for Sara. With each passing day, her hope is that justice will eventually be served.

“There is no closure,” she said. “That’s one thing people do say. If they find him, you’ll have closure. But, I don’t have my daughter.”

“It hurts to know he’s still out there,” McIlwee added. “You wonder how many people he’s killed and how many lives he’s destroyed.”

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