For more than two decades, no one knew the whereabouts of Sylvia Nicole Smith, a 16-year-old girl who was the subject of a Feb. 18, 2000, runaway report filed with Midland, Texas, police.
The 22-year-old mystery, state officials said Monday, was solved this month thanks to forensic advancements and the work of researchers at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, who determined that remains found near an oilfield wellsite nearly eight years ago were those of Smith.
Now, a homicide investigation is underway to determine how the girl died, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a news release.
An autopsy confirmed that Smith was killed, according to the state agency, and authorities are asking the public to come forward with any information about her disappearance and homicide.
The remains were found Aug. 1, 2013, by workers surveying near the oilfield wellsite south of Midland, the Public Safety Department said in the release. Authorities gathered all the evidence they could from the area.
DNA was extracted at the time, but all investigators could determine was that the victim was a female age 14 to 21 and that she was most likely the victim of a homicide.
The DNA results were put into the Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS, according to the release.
In 2020, more advanced DNA analysis determined that the victim was Black. A genetic genealogist was able to match the DNA with a that of distant relative, and interviews with possible other relatives led investigators last month to Smith's mother, the release stated.
The mother told Texas Rangers that she last saw her daughter on Valentine’s Day 2000, days before she filed the runaway report.
Texas Rangers collected DNA samples from Smith’s family for analysis, paving the way for the identification this month, officials said.
Texas Crime Stoppers is offering a $3,000 reward to anyone with information that can help authorities solve Smith's killing.