Tina Penix prays every day that someone will be held accountable for her 27-year-old daughter's death. And though a YouTube music video receiving thousands of hits has reopened wounds, it might help solve the case.
"It hurts to bring up all this stuff again," Penix said. "But it's good, too. I hope that somebody will speak out."
Nicole Marie Penix Vanzant disappeared Jan. 19, 2009, after she left the Dollar General Store in Frenchburg with her ex-boyfriend. Three months later, Vanzant's remains were found scattered in the Indian Creek area of the Red River Gorge in Powell County.
The cause of her death has not been determined.
Never miss a local story.
Following the one-year anniversary of Vanzant's disappearance, Fred Brown Jr. of Mount Sterling, a reporter for the News Review in Bath County, decided to revisit the case. He wrote an article for the paper but also started working on a song because he realized the newspaper article would have a short shelf life.
"I've written a lot of songs about historical events, but never something like this," Brown said.
He wrote the song and then spoke with Kentucky State Police detectives who checked the facts in the lyrics and put him in touch with Vanzant's family.
"We thought it was a good idea," Vanzant's father, Rick Penix, said, adding he appreciated Brown for wanting to help.
Brown recruited help from a friend, Sasha Colette of Morehead, to sing Ballad of Nicole Penix Vanzant. Others soon volunteered to create the video, which had received more than 4,200 hits on YouTube as of Sunday evening.
Colette strums an acoustic guitar in the video and sings about "momma's baby girl" who would "light up your day with her smile." Colette sings the tale of how Vanzant's bones were found in the gorge and repeats that "heaven's doors are closed to those with bloody hands."
The video was completed in December. Colette performed the song at the Rowan County Arts Center earlier this month.
"Every time you write something, you write with a purpose," Brown said.
The video concludes with contact information for Kentucky State Police, and viewers are urged to call a detective with tips about Vanzant's death.
"It remains open," state police Lt. Sean Welch said of the case. "It remains on the forefront of our minds here."
The case is reviewed regularly, but no substantial tips have been received recently, he said.
Vanzant, who was in the process of getting a divorce, was survived by a 6-year-old son who lives with his father in Rockcastle County. Vanzant's family said she had a good relationship with her son's father.
"She had lots of friends," Rick Penix recalled. "Everybody liked her. She loved her baby. She loved her family."
Rick Penix said he never imagined it would take so long for police to arrest and charge someone in his daughter's death. Tina Penix often visits Lovely Cemetery in Jeffersonville, where Vanzant is buried. The couple stay in touch with the police.
Tina Penix sobbed as she thought about how she would react to news that someone had been arrested in the case. She would ask that person why, she said, "Ask him why did you do it to my baby?
"I would be relieved and thank God."