Stephanie Garcia-Tovar remembers the last text she sent to her daughter Sydney on July 23, and the anguish minutes later of a message telling her the 16-year-old had been shot.
The teen, who had just graduated from graduated from Hamilton City Schools’ Miami School as part of an independent learning program, was shot in the head while in the parking lot of Tyler’s Creek Apartments in Fairfield Twp.
No arrests have been made in her death, and Garcia-Tovar is hoping a new poster featuring unsolved homicides can help police get more tips about what happened that night.
Garcia-Tovar told the Journal-News she last saw her daughter when she left the house to give a friend a ride. Then something went “horribly wrong.”
“I told her to be home by 11. She tried to make me say 12 or 1, but I told her no,” Garcia-Tovar said.
A few hours later, she looked at the clock and saw the time of 11:10 p.m. She sent a text reminding her daughter it was past curfew.
She never heard back. Minutes later Sydney’s friend, who was in the car at the time of the shooting, sent a text saying Sydney had been shot.
“I jumped out of bed. My blood felt like it was boiling,” Garcia-Tovar said. “Before I could hit the doorway, I had a policeman knocking on my door. He was trying to identify her because she left her license and ID (at home).”
On the ride to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, the mother said she was willing her daughter to recover after learning she had been shot in the head.
“I thought OK, they can stop the bleeding. She is going into surgery,” she said. But when she arrived at the hospital, a doctor pulled the family into a room.
“He said, ‘this is not a survivable injury,” Garcia-Tovar recalled.
The mother and family said goodbye to the teen a few days later when her organs were harvested for donation.
“We had talked about that when she got her license,” Garcia-Tovar said.
The mother said she is frustrated no one has come forward about Sydney’s shooting. There were three others in the car when it pulled into the apartment complex, including one man who received a non-life-threatening injury.
“Don’t be afraid to talk up. This is their friend. She would do anything for anybody and nobody has stepped up for her. Not one person, not one person has stepped up for her,” Garcia-Tovar said.
When Garcia-Tovar learned a local mother who also had lost a child to homicide was compiling a poster featuring unsolved women’s cases in the area, she knew Sydney’s face had to be included.
In the 11 years since her son’s shooting death in Hamilton County, Hope Dudley has turned her grief into founding the group U-Can-Speak-For-Me. It uses posters, flyers and playing cards depicting victims that are distributed in prisons and jails, along with any public location that might catch the eye of someone with information.
This fall, Dudley decided to produce a poster featuring the faces of 24 women from Hamilton and Butler counties whose deaths remain unsolved. She received a call from Garcia-Tovar last week with a plea to include the teen’s face.
Dudley told the Journal-News she knew right away she had to honor the request.
“They need help with this one,” she said.
Garcia-Tovar knows the posters are usually reserved for cold cases, but even after just three months she believes her daughter’s case has gone cold.
“To me it is a cold case. We are going into the third month here and I still have nothing. If you don’t have any information and nobody is talking, it is cold,” she said.
Fairfield Police Sgt. Jamison Mays said detectives are working on the case daily and they know there are people who might be able to help.
“It is like any other homicide — people don’t want to get involved,” Mays said. He noted the key to solving the case is for someone to come forward.
He said police have no motive or reason for Sydney being shot.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Detective Daniel Tinch at 513-785-4166.