SIOUX CITY – When Alicia Hummel would go fishing, she did so with the rod sticking through the sun roof of her grey Ford Fusion as she drove. She never took the time to collapse her rod. After all, she was always in a hurry to live the next moment, to do something spontaneous.
Most of the time, Alicia wanted to be with others. She loved the thrill of companionship, of nights out with friends for “hot dates,” as she’d call them – only one drink, something fruity. Or traveling miles and miles to sit with a friend as she got a perm – her first since grade school, something of a big deal.
But there were other times, in the quiet moments when Alicia was scared of how her life would unfold. She would sit in a reclining chair, away from the world besides her most trusted friends and not say a word.
Sometimes in those moments, Alicia would go fishing to find peace of mind. That’s what Amanda Abraham hopes her friend was doing the day Alicia was murdered four years ago Saturday.
Alicia Hummel's last day on Earth was her first day of vacation from her job at Siouxland Family Center in Dakota City, where she taught Early Head Start classes. She worked with children, something her friends recall as her passion in life.
It was the beginning of summer. She was going fishing.
The previous weekend was something special for the Abraham family, a family Alicia felt a part of, Amanda said. Each year, on the last weekend of May, the Abraham family would meet in Minnesota to fish and be with one another.
It was a moment that Alicia wanted to be a part of. But there wasn't another seat in the car for her, a painful fact that sticks in Amanda's mind.
"You just feel like if you would have done something differently, or been there with her," Amanda said. "There's always those 'what-ifs?'"
Still, Alicia was determined to go fishing, so she did.
In the early afternoon of June 1, 2015, she drove from her Sioux City home northwest to Myron Grove, a remote recreational area along the Missouri River in rural Clay County, South Dakota. She went there to fish, presumably driving with her rod sticking out the sun roof.
Want to go fishing? Angel Abraham, Amanda's 21-year-old daughter, remembers Alicia messaging her.
I’ll come out later, Angel responded.
Angel waited for a reply, an acknowledgement that Alicia knew Angel would come. But another message never came.
That was the final communication Angel had with Alicia, who she saw as an older sister. Angel believes it may have been one of the final conversations Alicia had with anyone before she died.
A state boat ramp attendant found Alicia in the water near the shore about 2 p.m.
According to Angel, Alicia decided to go fishing without her and possibly meet up later. To Angel and Amanda, that was a normal thing for Alicia to do.
Now, Angel wonders if she had set aside what she was doing and had gone fishing with Alicia if things would have been different.
“She was at peace with everything, she was ready to move on,” said Amanda, who had helped Alicia through some of the hardest moments in her life, citing a pending divorce. “She was finally on the path to find her own happiness after everything that she had just went through. And then that was just taken away from her. I mean, she didn’t really get to fulfill any of it.”
It is unclear whether or not Alicia was alone that day at Myron Grove. Several photographs exist of her time there, social media updates and pictures that she sent to friends.
Friends like Bethany Svacina, who had known her since their days in kindergarten together, remember Alicia fondly for her constant picture taking. Many friends, including Amanda and Angel, received Snapchat photos and text messages from Alicia that day at Myron Grove.
Alicia’s messages revealed that there were others at the river access the day she was murdered, but that is something Clay County Sheriff Andy Howe doesn’t find unusual. What he finds unusual is the silence surrounding those that may have been there.
“Not one person has come forward to us to tell us they were there,” Howe said. “But yet traffic goes in and out of there all the time ... We haven’t spoken to anyone that day that was on the river that passed by that area that might have seen anything that could help us.”
Regardless, after four years, no one has come forward to say they were present at Myron Grove that day.
An open case
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In Vermillion, which is about 11 miles from Myron Grove, cases like Hummel’s stick in the minds of its residents. Each day, when Howe enters the office, he remembers Alicia when he sees the flyer with her face on it.
“It’s one I think about every day,” Howe said.
An autopsy showed she died of drowning in the Missouri after receiving blunt force trauma to her head and an incised wound on her neck. Howe said that any murder weapon was never found.
At the funeral, Amanda Abraham remembered the high collar Alicia was dressed in and the long sleeves that covered up the bruising on her hands and arms. She believes Alicia fought back that day at Myron Grove, a thought that haunts her to this day.
In the beginning, law enforcement’s primary lead was a dark-colored vehicle believed to have been in the area that day. Now, Howe and the others are looking for new clues. He said they are still sending evidence to the forensics laboratory, hoping something will point them in the right direction.
“I always think that today could be the day. That the phone rings and we get a break,” Howe said. “I’m optimistic that that day will come. You just never know when it’s going to be.”
Howe said that several suspects are still being investigated in the case, though he did not identify any of them.
Beyond that, Howe said, any evidence or other information law enforcement has is being kept under wraps in hopes of finding the murderer and successfully prosecuting them.
But for those that knew her and loved her, like Jody Hanson, the last four years have been defined by anger. Hanson said that she wants justice for her friend, and with each year, she said it gets harder.
Life beyond Alicia
It’s a Wednesday in Elk Point, South Dakota, as the early summer rain pitter-patters against Bethany Svacina’s parents' driveway. Her two children play on the carpet with building blocks, Matchbox cars and bouncy balls as she remembers her friend who has been gone for four years.
“I think lives change and there’s part of me that thinks, ‘Oh yeah, that is almost a separate life than where we are now,’” Svacina said. “But then I think we (Alicia and I) have had those talks. We talked about having kids ... But yeah, life has dramatically changed.”
In the weeks, months and years since Alicia was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Sioux City, weddings and life moments have taken place. Dejay Langel is married. Svacina has two children. Alicia's sister, Erica Kampfe, has another child on the way.
Sometimes, when Kampfe drives around Sioux City with her son in the car, he'll point to any random cemetery and say, 'We should go see Alicia.' To Kampfe, those moments let her know that Alicia is still with her, still a part of her life.
“That’s her trying to come in to say, 'I'm still here,'" Kampfe said.
To Langel, a new kind of pain set in after his wedding. Years ago, he danced with Alicia at her own wedding. After June 1, 2015, she couldn’t dance with him at his.
“It’s important that people don’t forget who she was,” Svacina said. “She wasn’t just somebody off the street ... She was a 29-year old female, was a great friend and a great aunt ... What happened to her should not define her. That shouldn’t be what people remember, the brutality of her murder. What people should remember is how awesome she was as an individual and what she offered this world.”
Four years later, Svacina understands that life has begun to move on. But each time her 3-year-old son points at a picture of Alicia and asks, Who’s that, Mommy? she knows how important it is to remember Alicia for who she was, not for how she died.
In the end, the people she affected in her life remember her for who she was, they said.
Regardless of the fact that she couldn’t hurt a fly, she wanted to be a roller derby dame.
She laughed a laugh that Amanda Abraham says she can still hear today.
Children were her passion in life, her sister said.
She wore jean shorts with cowboy boots, a fashion sense that her friends have later acknowledged as simply Alicia.
She blasted Luke Bryan on her car radio. Cheetah print was her go-to and pink was her favorite color – after all, that was the color of her casket.
She was unique, and bubbly, and smiling all the time, her friends said.
She was Alicia.