Closure evades family in PG stabbing death
By James Peacemaker, Jr. Managing Editor
Jul 11, 2014, 09:25
Alana Renee Cole
PRINCE GEORGE — In the months leading up to her mother’s fatal stabbing, Alana Renee Cole’s behavior had become erratic. Family members said she had become hostile, isolated and even told everyone to start calling her “Legend.”
Cole, who has been missing since Lana Sears was found stabbed multiple times on April 25, has been called a “person of interest” by police, but they have refrained from officially labeling her as a suspect.
Now months after the killing, police are continuing to keep an eye out for Cole and have taken steps that will alert them if she is spotted anywhere in the country, but they have seemingly hit a roadblock in the case -- the first homicide in the county in nearly three years.
With the case in limbo and the family not even knowing if Cole is still alive, they are hoping to draw attention to the case in hopes of getting some sort of closure.
Police responded to the home shared by Sears, Cole and other family members, on Friday, April 25, at 3:54 p.m. for a death investigation.
According to a search warrant affidavit signed by Detective C.N. Noblin, officers responded to the home on the 1300 block Marl Bank Drive, which is right along the James River, east of Jordan Point, in the Beechwood Manor neighborhood.
Upon arrival, officers were met by Kristen Sears who told police that her mother, Lana Sharlene Sears, 67, had been stabbed and was in the master bedroom.
The victim was found in a sitting position on the floor on the right side of the bed against a night stand.
Two members of the Prince George emergency crew responded, and Lana Sears was pronounced dead at 4:05 p.m.
When Kristen Sears was asked who else lives at the home and who else might have done this, she said her half-sister Alana Renee Cole, who family called “Renee,” has mental health issues and could have been the one who stabbed her, the search warrant affidavit says.
There had been a conversation about admitting Cole to a mental health facility. Kristen Sears said the family had called a caseworker the night before because of Alana Renee Cole’s condition but the caseworker never showed up.
The search warrant affidavit says that Cole most likely fled on foot because she did not have a vehicle, nor does she drive. She was also not seen since the time of the incident. She was reported to be walking away from the area at the time.
A search warrant signed by a magistrate at 1 p.m. April 28 gave police the approval to search an iPad, iPhone and a Toshiba laptop for “all electronically stored files and data. This is to include, but not limited to contact, calendars, emails, text messages, internet history, search history, photographs, videos, documents, and any other electronic data.”
The search warrant was executed at 3 p.m. that same day.
Cole’s sister, Tracy King, said the family is still in shock over the killing.
“We just never thought that anything like this was going to happen,” she said.
King recalled Cole as a protective sister growing up.
“She wouldn’t do anything like this. … Actually when I met my husband, she was very protective over that because he was older than me. … We shared a room together,“ she said.
But family members said mental illness took hold of Renee. Her brother, Eric Cole, said the mental illness had been evident for years.
“She wrecked her car and pretty much after that it was a total downhill spiral. She just won’t the same person we grew up with. She wasn’t our sister any more for the last four years,” he said.
Eric said she talked to herself frequently.
“That last four years was a downward spiral for her … being distant from everybody. … She’d slam the door in your face,” he said.
Eric said Renee had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and that the family struggled with how to deal with her.
“Tried to have her committed a couple times. Actually dragged my mom to the magistrate’s office once. My sister drug my mom to the magistrate’s office,” he said.
“A social worker would come by once a month and talk to her. The thing about it is the social worker never showed up the day before. She was suppose to be there on that Thursday,” the day before the killing, Eric said.
Cole’s brother-in-law, Tim Barbour, who lives in the home, said she may have stopped taking her medication because of how different she was acting recently.
She starting going by an alias as well.
“It was something that she called herself during the last few months. She use to walk around the house saying that her name was not Renee, it was Legend,” Barbour said.
“All the sudden, the last 7-8 months, she really got bad. It was time to get her recommitted and that’s when the social worker was going to come, and never showed up,” he said.
Neighbors saw Renee Cole walking in the neighborhood around 10:30 a.m. the day of the killing.
Family members confirmed that she did not drive a car.
But her brother, Eric, said she may have left with a backpack full of food.
“We looked around in the house and a lot of her food was gone. … She was seen with a backpack leaving the premises. And that’s about the extent of what we know,” he said.
Eric Cole said she had not been in contact with many people and did not spend time connecting with people online.
“The last six months they found she hardly even got on Facebook,” he said.
The Prince George Police Department held a meeting June 12 at River’s Edge Bible Church near the neighborhood to help keep the lines of communication open.
Police Chief Ed Frankenstein told the more than three dozen residents gathered there that the police want to keep them informed.
“We certainly value the relationship we have with our neighborhood,” Frankenstein said.
He said residents have noticed an increased police presence since the killing, with patrol cars and even dogs.
Frankenstein said there may be specific details that could not be released to the public.
“That’s part of an active investigation,” he said.
But he hoped people would come away with a better understanding of what is going on.
In the days after the killing, the Prince George Police Department and several other agencies saturated the area with search and rescue teams, multiple canine teams with bloodhounds and cadaver dogs. Equipment from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries was used to search ponds and other bodies of water.
“We covered that subdivision numerous times,” said Lt. Paul Burroughs, even in the pouring rain.
Burroughs said police also searched vacant houses.
“You can look at the massive wooded area and the water. We also pulled in the marine units and a search was done on the shoreline and elsewhere in the waterway,” Burroughs said.
There was a vehicle theft reported in the area a few days after the killing, but police said it was not related to Cole’s disappearance. Burroughs said that there were no other crimes such as break-ins, related to the case either.
Residents wanted to know whether she was presumed dead or alive, who she may have known or what vehicles she had access to or what type of clothing she was wearing.
But police provided few details other than that she did not have a vehicle of her own and she was last seen near the residence.
“We are continuing to search for Alana Renee Cole and she is currently listed as a missing person in our investigation,” Burroughs said.
Frankenstein said the police have gotten a lot of information about where she typically walked. And he said neighbors said she typically kept to herself.
Police are using a national database that will flag her if there is any interaction with her and any other law enforcement agency.
Burroughs said he hopes that anyone with any possible information about that day or after should contact the police. He said that sometimes the smallest detail that may not seem relevant by itself can be helpful when considered in the big picture.
Capt. Eric Young said they have been tracking any possible transaction she could make since the beginning of the investigation.
The crowd was willing to share information, but also appeared frustrated by the lack of answers.
Some questioned why Alana Renee Cole is still listed as person of interest and not as a suspect and why she hasn’t been officially charged.
Young said no charges will be brought until they are sure they have enough evidence, and that decision will be made along with the commonwealth’s attorney.
“The last thing we want to do is have a knee-jerk reaction and rush anything that we would regret in the future,” Young said.
Prince George Commonwealth’s Attorney Jay “C” Paul said he has been in contact with the police about the incident since the day it happened.
“We’re in constant discussions with them about what is going on, so when it gets to the point where actions will need to be taken in the courtroom, we will be 100 percent prepared,” Paul said.
“Charging someone with a crime is not going to find them any quicker,” Paul said.
He said it doesn’t solve the problem and it also affects the rights of that person.
“For instance, if you charge someone with something and now you come up and talk to them, the first thing you have to do is read them their Miranda rights. And so you can’t have a casual conversation with them,” Paul said.
He said he realizes the family is looking for some type of closure but rushing to charge someone can be counter-productive.
Young said he want to make sure the line of communication stays open with the family.
“Do not let a wall get built up,” he said.
“We want to reassure our community that we are going to be relentless about this,” Frankenstein said.
Despite reassurances from the Police Department, family members said they are frustrated.
“We feel like there’s no closure. I know that the police department is helping us every which way they can help us. It’s just very hard I think because I know it’s going to take time. We just want it to be solved tomorrow but we know it’s not,” King said.
She said she understands that the police are limited in what they can say about the investigation but they have lots of questions that are unanswered.
Still labeling her as “‘a person of interest’ to me kind of hurts, like a jab in the stomach. And I know it’s not going to find her any faster,” King said.
But family members said whether they find Renee Cole or not, they want to know something definite.
“We wake up every day not knowing. Every day. We go to bed crying not knowing” whether Renee Cole is alive, King said.
The family is hoping to keep the police’s, the media’s and the public’s attention on the case.
“We don’t want this to become a cold case,” King said.