Dateline | July 06, 2013
>>> the death of beloved teacher justine abshire on this dark country road in central virginia was becoming a mystery for investigators. what started out as an apparent hit and run accident was turning in to a potential murder investigation. but for her family, trying to grapple with the news of her sudden death it was all threatening to become a personal tsunami, sweeping away everything in its path.
>> we're both in shock and i remember standing in our bedroom and steve and i just holding on to each other and just saying, you know, we have to take care of each other. we can't let this destroy us.
>> the four head always been so close. now, the sudden death shattered them like so much broken glass . pretty little justine , a golden child , had been raised to be happy. in the years the girls were growing up, steve was an executive in the tell telecom industry. heidi worked for the airlines.
>> here we are in the house.
>> in steve 's field, frequent corporate relocations came with the territory. new states, new houses, new schools for the girls. lauren remembers thinking how easily justine handled all that uprooting of their lives. she'd arrive at a new school and immediately become the center of attention.
>> it was impossible to not notice her. she was pretty in a barbie doll type of quality. the long blond air and blue eyes and porcelain skin that drew a lot of attention.
>> so embarrassing.
>> not that justine welcomed the looks she was getting. hardly. she was shy by nature and had no interest in becoming the cool girl at school. she was content to hang out with a few close friends and to dote on her pets.
>> she was always passionate about animals and little kids and she was a natural born nurturer.
>> and it seemed just yesterday they were sending her off to a women's college in virginia. holly boardman was assigned to be her freshman roommate and the two became instant friends.
>> we would actually walk arm in arm everywhere. we would do everything at the same time.
>> dressed alike? swap clothes, shoes?
>> when we buy clothes, we buy them in two so i can have one and she could have one.
>> if justine wanted to learn martial arts , she'd sign up holly, too. when holly had a hankering fly a plane, justine went along for the ride. they were best friends forever .
>> the best friend sister combined. we really could n't get any closer.
>> eric was also a member of an extended family . tracy is his extended cousin.
>> a caring, sweet, nice kid. just always good.
>> it made it all so hard, such a cute couple everyone thought. and now eric a widower after only five months of marriage. tracy was utterly heart broken by justine 's death, almost too much to comprehend how an awful accident like that could happen.
>> horrible news.
>> horrible news.
>> this is a loved woman in your family.
>> eric 's family began gathering at the couple's home to comfort him the morning of the accident. cousin tracy remembers looking in on him in the bedroom so forelorn.
>> he's standing up against the wall. left arm propped up looking out the window and just crying. uncontrollably.
>> by the afternoon, justine 's family arrived at couple's home to comfort their son-in-law.
>> i remember, you know, all of us hugging. i remember steve putting his arm around him and saying, eric , you know, we want you to understand that we know that accidents happen. and we're not blaming you for what happened to justine . and he said, well, you know, we had an argument and if, you know, if i wouldn't have argued with her she wouldn't have left and this wouldn't have happened. we tried to make it clear it was an accident and we didn't hold him responsible.
>> there were arrangements to be made. flowers, music to be selected. the two families gathered at the packed funeral home where so many turned out for the beloved teacher taken away from them too soon. pat hammond spoke at the service.
>> i wanted people to understand this was a terrible thing that happened but she was a wonderful gift. and sometimes people don't value the gifts that we're given.
>> justine 's sister lauren recalls looking at eric and thinking how crushed he was by the sudden turn of fate. his two young daughters, children from a previous relationship by his side.
>> eric was crying. he was really emotional. holding on to his two children.
>> and among the mourners that day there was a stranger. special agent mike jones . the investigator was the son of a grade schoolteacher himself and went to justine 's funeral to pay his respects to the family and to see how eric was holding up.
>> he's a victim. it's his wife that's gone.
>> and as the wife's friends would soon be telling the troopers as the investigation moved forward justine , the justine they knew and loved had been gone for a while. those sunny good looks aside, justine abshire somehow lost her way long before she'd apparently broken down on that virginia road.