Heather Leann Pope was in junior high school when her family discovered she was hearing impaired. For years the kind, bubbly girl spoke a little louder than others — and would often respond to people in a way that sometimes didn’t make sense to them.
But when Heather got hearing aids as a teenager, a whole new world opened up for her.
“I remember after we got her hearing aids, we got into the car and it was raining,” Heather’s mother, Carla Pope, told Dateline. “She asked me, ‘Mama, is that the rain I hear on the windshield?’ I just couldn’t believe I didn’t know how little she could hear.”
Carla said her daughter was bullied by kids in school, because of her disability, but that didn’t stop her from treating everyone with kindness.
“She struggled, and so did we,” Carla said. “But she always kept a positive attitude, no matter what.”
It wasn’t until Heather’s funeral in 2010 that her family truly realized the profound and positive effect she had on others.
“So many -- just so many people came up to me right there at the funeral and told me about all the ways Heather touched their lives,” Carla said as she still choked back tears ten years later. “She was kind to everyone - from the dirtiest dirt to the people who carried those Louis Vuitton bags. It didn’t matter.”
Carla said at least 600 people signed the guestbook and that Heather’s funeral was quickly at capacity as people lined up outside to say their goodbyes.
Heather was only 29 years old when she was murdered.
Carla, and her sister, Paula, who also spoke to Dateline, said they remember that summer of 2010 being a typical hot, sticky Texas summer.
After years of bouncing around from place to place and job to job, Heather had moved in with her mother in Royse City, Texas.
“She was lost,” Heather’s aunt, Paula Edge, told Dateline. “But she was finding her way. Finally finding her way and then it was all taken from her.”
Heather’s aunt and mother told Dateline that she had gotten involved with a “bad crowd” and were concerned about the road she was heading down.
“I don’t want to paint a picture that she was this perfect person,” Carla said. “Because she wasn’t. But those people she hung around with were not good people. But she was kind to everyone. She never met a stranger. And I think that got her into trouble.”
On July 23, 2010, Heather left the house, telling her mother she was going to visit a friend. It was the last time Carla ever saw her daughter.
“It wasn’t unusual for Heather to go spend the weekend with a friend, of course,” Carla said. “But after a few days had passed and I hadn’t heard anything from her, I began to worry. Because no matter what, she always checked in.”
Carla said she called Heather’s father, Randall Pope, but he hadn’t been able to reach Heather either. The couple, who had been divorced for most of Heather’s life, maintained a friendship through the years for their two daughters, Carla told Dateline.
Heather’s parents reported her missing to the Royse City Police Department the week after she disappeared.
For the next 11 days, the family searched the area around the house in Royse City and nearby Hunt County where Heather had friends, but there was no sign of her.
Carla told Dateline that Heather often hung out with friends at a convenience store in the Quinlan area of Hunt County. While Heather‘s father and a family friend were out searching on August 3, she told them to try the store and ask if anyone had seen her. But when they asked, no one said they had seen or heard from her.
Heather’s father and the family friend decided to walk the property behind the convenience store near a vacant house on Cedar Hill Road. And that’s where they made the gruesome discovery.
Heather’s badly decomposed body was found on the ground under a tarp next to the vacant house, according to Hunt County Sheriff Lieutenant Roger Seals, who was at the scene that day.
“It was one of the hottest days of the summer and her body had been there for awhile,” Lt. Seals said. “It was badly decomposed.”
Autopsy results showed that Heather’s death was the result of blunt force trauma to the head.
The Hunt County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation, but Lt. Seals said because of the lack of evidence found, it's been difficult to place anyone else at the scene where Heather’s body was found.
Heather’s mother, Carla, told Dateline that she believes a man who Heather befriended is responsible for her murder.
“I think he was told ‘no’ by her too many times,” Carla said. “And that made him angry. Angry enough to commit a horrible crime like this -- a crime of passion.”
Lieutenant Seals confirmed there was a person of interest who was questioned multiple times, but said there has not been enough evidence to charge him or anyone in connection with Heather’s murder. He added that no one has been cleared, and the investigation is ongoing.
“I’d love nothing more than for this case to be solved -- for Heather’s family to have closure,” Lt. Seals told Dateline. “Out of all the cases we handle, this is one where everyone talks so well about the victim. She was definitely loved.”
But Lt. Seals said he believes it’s going to take a witness to come forward with information or someone to make a confession for this case to be solved.
“We follow through on every tip and bit of information we receive,” Lt. Seals said. “But we’re still waiting on the one that will break this case open.”
As this weekend marks 10 years since Heather’s murder, her family talks about the piece of their hearts they’ve lost.
Carla’s other daughter, Christi, still grieves for her older sister.
“She always looked up to her,” Carla said. “Anything Heather did, Christi wanted to do. And now she’s lost without her.”
Ten years have passed, yet Carla said they feel no closer to finding out what happened to Heather.
In April 2019, the Pope family met with Hunt County Crime Stoppers and offered a donation of $8,500 in order to increase the total reward to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for her death.
Carla said she hopes the money will encourage someone to come forward with information that will help find Heather’s killer and give their family closure.
“We’re so blessed that we found her. So blessed,” Carla said. “Otherwise, we’d still be looking for her now. Ten years later. Now, we’re looking for justice. I’m her mama. I need to know what happened.”
Anyone with information about Heather’s case is asked to call the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office at 903-453-6800 or Hunt County Crime Stoppers at 903-457-2929.