110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted Apr 24, 2014 - 12:41:18pm
Editor's note: This is the second in a series of stories about the unsolved shooting death of Laralee Spear. The case rocked the DeLand community 20 years ago, when 15-year-old Laralee, A DeLand High School cheerleader, was found shot to death on April 25, 1994. Read the first story online.
Twenty years have passed, but for Barbara Spear, the memory is as fresh as yesterday. The pain is still as cutting and the grief is still as deep as it was immediately after her daughter was killed April 25, 1994.
She talked about the day 15-year-old Laralee died in the hope her comments might cause someone to come forward with information to help the Volusia County Sheriff's Office find the killer.
"If anyone knew anything, I would hope they would understand how difficult this has been for us. The loss of Laralee was just … " Barbara Spear paused, trying to find the right words.
"Unbelievably hard," she finished.
April 25, 1994
April 25, 1994, was a Monday, a big homework night, Barbara Spear said. On Mondays, Laralee usually brought home a stack of schoolbooks. She would try to get as many school assignments done as she could at the start of the week.
A little after 3 p.m., Barbara Spear had already begun fixing dinner for Laralee, who was a sophomore at DeLand High School, and for Laralee's younger sister, Virginia or "Ginny," a seventh-grader at Southwestern Middle School.
As Barbara Spear bustled around the kitchen, she started feeling the house was too quiet. Then it dawned on her: Laralee hadn't come in yet. The 15-year-old usually came in right after getting off the bus at 3:15 p.m.
A check of the time confirmed Laralee was late, and Barbara Spear was worried.
"Laralee — you could set a clock by her," Barbara Spear said.
She went outside and called for her daughter. Nothing. She walked down the driveway to the road and yelled for her daughter; there was no reply.
Barbara got in the car and drove to the bus stop down the road, at the intersection of Deerfoot Road and Spring Garden Avenue. Jeannie Deaver, who lived in the house closest to the intersection, told Barbara she had seen Laralee get off the bus and walk up the road.
Barbara returned to the house and called Carolyn Bedenbaugh, Laralee's best friend. Laralee was not with Carolyn, who told Barbara Spear she had seen Laralee heading to get on the bus after school. Another friend, Vanessa Arias, who rode the school bus with Laralee, said Laralee had been on the bus and had gotten off at her stop, as usual.
"By then, I was holding down the panic button," Barbara Spear said.
She checked with other neighbors, who went out and started looking for Laralee.
Barbara Spear called her husband, David, at his office, and told him what was happening.
"I'm calling the Sheriff's Department," Barbara Spear said. That was at 4:05 p.m.
"I'm on my way home," David Spear replied.
Ginny Spear came home from Southwestern Middle School. A neighbor had told her there was trouble.
The Sheriff's Office search was underway, and a deputy named Clay was coming to get information and a photo of Laralee as David Spear arrived.
"By then, they had the helicopter out here. They had the area covered," Barbara Spear said.
Nevertheless, the mother had a sick feeling. She knew something was badly wrong for Laralee not to have come home.
Deputies told the family to stay inside while they searched.
Carolyn Bedenbaugh had called the church. Bill Cloud, Laralee's youth pastor and choir director at The Sanctuary, showed up with members of the youth group to help search, but deputies declined the help. Cloud prayed with the family.
"We stayed here and waited," Barbara Spear said.
A mother's worst fears were realized when a Sheriff's Office chaplain and some deputies walked into the house, just a little more than 90 minutes after Barbara Spear had called to report her daughter missing.
"You could tell by the look in their eye it wasn't good news. It was just impossible to believe," she said.
Laralee’s body had been found near an abandoned, burned house about a quarter-mile west on Deerfoot Road. She had been shot to death.
Barbara and David Spear's oldest daughter, Kassie, lived in Winter Park. Barbara called Kassie's boyfriend to see if he could bring her home, and reached the boyfriend’s mother, instead. The boyfriend's mother and father came driving up with Kassie 45 minutes later.
Kassie had been warned she would get bad news, but wasn’t told the specifics, Barbara Spear said.
The loss of a beautiful life
The unpleasant duties that follow a death began. First came telephoning relatives and friends to tell them the unthinkable news. Later would come funeral and burial arrangements.
Those tasks would pass. The grief and the questions would continue.
Who did it? Why? How was Laralee abducted?
"How could anyone have gotten her into a car to take her away?" Barbara Spear asked.
Cold-case investigators believe Laralee was probably forced at gunpoint.
Laralee and her sisters lived disciplined, structured lives, Barbara Spear said. It had been drilled into them not to accept rides from anyone, and not to talk to strangers. They didn't go anywhere without telling their parents 24 hours in advance.
Laralee never gave her parents cause for concern, Barbara Spear said.
"She did what she was supposed to do. You could absolutely depend on her. She kept her promises. She kept her friends' confidences," Barbara Spear said.
There was no reason for anyone to wish Laralee harm.
"It made no sense. She was friends with everyone," Barbara said.
Laralee enjoyed school and her activities, including singing in the church choir. She was the smallest cheerleader in her DeLand High squad, the one who climbed fearlessly to the top of human pyramids.
Laralee loved animals and children.
By the time she was in the eighth grade, Laralee had decided she wanted to be a pediatrician. "She was most emphatic," Barbara Spear said.
The mother had reminded Laralee she couldn't stand the sight of blood. The young girl retorted, "I'll get used to it."
That's the way Laralee was — she could do anything she made up her mind to do, Barbara Spear said.
Twenty years later
Barbara and David Spear remain in the house on Deerfoot Road that David Spear, an architect, designed for the family. They had moved to DeLand only six months before Laralee's death.
The Spears had lived in Oviedo. David and Barbara Spear scouted Central Florida for the perfect site for a new home. They zeroed in on the lot on the southern outskirts of DeLand after David saw the beautifully wooded property on Deerfoot Road.
In the years since Laralee’s death, the investigators, the community, the neighbors — everyone — has been kind and supportive of the family, Barbara said.
In 1994, Barbara Spear had been working as a part-time assistant at Pine Trail Elementary School in Ormond Beach. Both staff and students there were a huge comfort to her when Laralee was killed, as were those at Southwestern Middle School, she said.
Neighbor Janet Raney, who worked at Southwestern Middle School in 1994, and later as Exceptional Student Education (ESE) chairwoman for the School Board, encouraged Barbara Spear to get her teaching certificate and teach in the ESE program, which Barbara Spear did, for 15 years.
Now, Ginny is married and lives with her husband in Lake Mary. After Laralee's death, Ginny was passionate about finding her big sister’s killer, and that commitment remains, her mother said.
Volusia County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit Investigator Ralph Henshaw is dedicated to fulfilling that wish, for Virginia and the rest of the family.
Kassie is married and lives with her husband and two children, a boy and a girl — another great comfort to Barbara Spear — in Plantation.
Barbara still tries to find some rhyme or reason for what happened to Laralee.
"I know God has a purpose for everything," she said. "We were just glad he loaned her to us for as long as we had her."
She paused for a moment, in reflection.
"It was so hard to give her up," she added.
Anyone who has any information about the death of Laralee Spear is asked to call the Volusia County Sheriff's Office at 386-254-1535, or send an email to the Cold Case Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, call Crimestoppers of Northeast Florida toll free at 1-888-277-TIPS to make an anonymous report. A reward is offered for information that leads to the identification of the killer.
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