Vigil to honor memory of Debbie Key
By Beth Velliquette : The Herald-Sun
Nov 25, 2007
CARRBORO -- It was 10 years ago, the weekend after Thanksgiving, when friends of Debbie Key realized something was wrong.
Her car, with her purse still inside, was parked in a bank parking lot near their favorite hangout spot, Sticks & Stones at 102 E. Main Street.
"When we realized her car was still there, and her door wasn't locked, that was so out of character," recalled Key's friend, Joy Preslar. "Immediately we knew something had happened to her."
Key was never found, and she is presumed murdered. To honor her memory, Preslar and other friends have planned a candlelight vigil for Friday at the spot where she was last seen alive, in the Bank of America parking lot, from 9 p.m. until 3 a.m. Saturday.
The organizers are hoping to find an indoor space nearby where Key's sister, Susan Gagnon, will speak between 7 and 9 p.m. They also hope to lay a stepping-stone in her memory near the site. Key's mother, who has since passed away, placed a similar stone there years ago but it was stolen.
Preslar remembers that weekend 10 years ago. Usually she and her husband stopped by Sticks & Stones on their way home from Sunday dinner, but that night they decided to drive straight home.
Other people who were at the bar later told police that they saw Key, 35, talking with a younger man with a ponytail. He had recently started showing up at the bar, where he drew drawings of nude women.
"She was out with friends, meeting new people," Preslar said. "She committed no crime. She had not put herself into a dangerous situation until he misperceived her intentions and lost his temper and strangled her."
He, many people believe, was Andy Dalzell, a young man who grew up in the area and attended local schools.
Key was last seen with Dalzell in the parking lot next to her car.
Dalzell confessed to strangling Key, driving her body to Wilmington and putting it in a waste bin. But a judge later threw out the confession, saying the Carrboro Police Department violated Dalzell's constitutional rights as well as a number of North Carolina laws when they tricked him into believing he was being arrested for murder and would receive the death penalty unless he immediately told police where to find her body.
Dalzell's family said they believe he made a false confession, but many others believe he did indeed kill Key after she rejected his advances in the parking lot.
Preslar still thinks of her friend, who she called a vivacious, warm and friendly woman who loved music. "She and I were concert buddies," said Preslar, who sings and plays in a band.
Although it's been 10 years since her friend went missing, the pain still cuts deep, Preslar said. "I stopped going to Walnut Creek [a concert venue]," she said. "It was just too painful."
Driving to the Raleigh arena makes her think of Key. "I can't make it alone," Preslar said. "I just start crying."
Key knew many musicians, and they've been invited to bring their instruments to the vigil. If the weather is good, they may play music, said Bill Widman, who maintains a Web page called debbiekey.org in Key's memory.
A television station will also be there to film a few scenes of the vigil for a segment that will be part of a show called N.C. Wanted, Widman said.
© 2007 by The Durham Herald Company. All rights reserved.