Knoxville — "Determined stubborn, hard-headed, compassionate, beautiful person," is how Cynthia Thacker described her daughter to us in a 2010 interview.
Her daughter had been gone a year when she sat down with us last, now it's been almost a decade.
"Our world is not the same since Gina was taken away. Nothing has been the same," Cynthia wrote to us in an email.
You can read Cynthia's full letter at the end of this article.
Thacker had just lost her husband the year before. Describing the loss of her only daughter is difficult, so she put it into writing.
"She loved to smile at you, and for you to smile back," Cynthia wrote.
It's pain she's lived with daily, as she tries to hold onto bright memories of her daughter.
"As beautiful as Gina was on the outside, her inside was ten times greater still," Cynthia wrote.
It was in the early hours of Feb. 8, 2009 when the beautiful 23-year-old with a heart for helping others, was shot and killed.
"We hit this case really, really hard. We just need a break," Investigator Jeff Day said. He had recently joined the homicide team in 2009, when he jumped in the search for Gina's killer.
Homicide teams established a timeline of Gina's final hours.
After leaving a waitressing shift at the Emory Road Shoney's, Gina went home where she lived with her boyfriend off Pedigo Road. Then she headed out, alone, to a bar called Spicy's off Emory.
"She left there at 2 a.m. and left alone," Day said. "I don't believe she was seen again after that."
2 hours later, Gina was found shot dead in her car.
"She'd been shot probably while she sat in the driver's seat, more than once," Day described. "It appears she was shot through an open door, the driver's window was open."
The vehicle was parked at the Valley Oaks apartment complex off Valley View Drive, where Gina didn't live and didn't know anyone.
"She was in a Corolla, sitting in a parking space right when you come in the parking spot," described Day. "Makes you think she wasn't visiting someone specific, maybe we don't know who she was there to see."
Investigators say there is a possibility she may have had a passenger. The side seat was reclined back and they also found some drug paraphernalia.
Current evidence likely points to a robbery.
"There was green purse strap that was on the parking lot just outside her driver's door like it had been torn off a purse. Her purse was missing along with her cell phone," Day said. "It appears maybe she was trying to fight them.
Investigators never recovered Gina's cellphone and credit cards, they were never used.
With little to go on, the search for answers began immediately, but the quick action turned no results.
"We probably had 20-30 people out the next day knocking on doors, nobody saw a thing. No cameras at that complex at that time to help us out," Day described. "They had dumpsters searched, went everywhere she had been 3 times."
Gina's family took their own steps, putting up a massive billboard to bring attention to the case.
The sign read 'Who Killed Gina' and was off I-640 towards East Town Mall. It stayed there for years.
As this cold case approaches a decade with no answers, there are two things that could get it solved.
"Either evidence we've already obtained, DNA that we don't have a hit on and the right person gets arrested and we get a match, or someone knows, watches this and comes forward," Day said.
It's a waiting game for investigators, while a mother wishes she could have her little girl back.
"There is not a day that goes by when I wish with all my heart that 'I could make it better'," Cynthia wrote.
If you know anything about this homicide, you can give tips to KPD through their hotline at 865-215-7317. Callers can choose to remain anonymous.
It is our Family's most sincere hope that whomever committed this heinous act against our little Gina, will be brought to Justice. Our world is not the same since Gina was taken away. Nothing has been the same. I'm attaching a photo of Gina here. It's her graduation picture from CAK. As you can see, she was beautiful, but as beautiful as Gina was on the outside . . . her inside was ten times greater still.
You indicated previously that you would like to know something more about Gina? What kind of person she was or what she liked to do? This is Gina:
If you Leslie, or anyone hearing these words, could close your eyes. Now . . . imagine, keeping your eyes closed, and you see nothing but darkness. And it's quiet too. So quiet. Then . . . all of a sudden you hear laughter, and a "Hummph" sound . . . with tennis shoes running own the hallway . . . pounding loudly. Once you open your eyes . . . you'll be startled at first because Gina would probably be standing right in front of you, her arms crossed, with a sideways smile on her face, and she'd say to you, ". . . Well . . . took you long enough to open your eyes. What were you waiting for? Christmas?" . . . and then she'd bend over with laughter . . . maybe slapping at the air in an offhanded gesture. Gina would run toward you and throw her arms out and say, "Nah . . . I'm just messin' with you. Gimme a hug. It'll be alright. Silly Puss." She was so warm and inviting, and loved people, animals, and music. Not necessarily in that order.
Gina had such a big Heart. She was friendly and likable, yet she would go to the mat for her Family and close Friends. Gina was always looking out for the person needing help . . . whether it was the elderly man or woman who was alone, scared, who needed a little extra attention . . . or the co-worker, friend or neighbor having a tough day. She loved to smile at you, and for you to smile back. And you better not let Gina know where to find a stray kitten or puppy . . . she'd bring it home and have it in the bathtub with her, and then want it to sleep with her too.
Once . . . when Gina was driving home, right off the I-75 Exit on Emery Road, she saw a woman walking on the side of the road with no coat. Stopping the car off the shoulder, she got out . . . approached the woman, and Gina literally took her coat off and gave it to the woman. I believe it was in February. The woman didn't want to take the coat, but Gina told her, "I've got a warm house to go home to. You keep the coat . . . you need it more than me." This was Gina through and through, and she really would, and did, give the coat off her back. Literally.
My only sister, Tresa (pronounced Teresa) lives in Nashville, has for years. So, of course, road trips from Knoxville to visit were about three hours long. Gina was about five years old at the time, and she and I would play a game to pass the time. I would usually get her started by saying,
"Hey . . . Gina?"
She'd say, "What, Mom?"
I'd say, "You see all those lines in the road . . . the white ones . . . passing by when we're driving?"
Gina would say, "Yep. I see 'em."
I'd say, "Well . . . I love you a million times every line on this road."
Gina would respond with, "Well, Mommy . . . you see those cows over there . . . in that field . . . right there?" and she'd point out the window.
I'd say, "Yes. I see 'em."
Gina would grin and say, "I love you a million times . . . a million times ever one of the hairs on all those cows."
I'd say, "Wow . . . you love me that much? Really?"
Gina would shake her head up and down emphatically, grin, and say, "You better know it mommy!"
I'd laugh, and then ask her, "Well . . . you see all trees . . . on both sides of the road . . . and on those mountains far, far away?"
She would say, "UhHuh. I see all those trees."
"Well, I love you . . ." I'd start out, before finishing with a smile only known to Mommies, "I love you a Million-Billion times every leaf on every tree, as far as you can see. And then some."
Gina would look at me then, her huge chocolate eyes wide with amazement, and she would say,"WOAH . . . that's a lot ain't it Mommy?"
I'd say, "It sure it."Gina was twenty-three when she was killed, but I still remember her as being little. I really don't know why, unless it's the Mother in me needing to nurture and remember how when Gina was home with me and her dad . . . she was safe. Gina was safe because we made sure she was. That's what Mommies and Daddies do . . . we make it better. There is not a day that goes by when I wish with all my heart that "I could make it better."