GEORGETOWN, Ohio - No leads. Dead ends.
Those were the words that plagued detectives for months after the unsolved shooting death of a 22-year-old pregnant mother in Brown County.
But this week, investigators say they have reached a turning point: They may know who killed Brittany Stykes – and why.
"(We don’t know) all the details, but… it's coming together," Chief Deputy John Schadle said.
On Aug. 28, police responding to what they thought was a car crash along U.S. Route 68 instead found Stykes shot dead in her car. Her then 14-month-old daughter, Aubree, was still strapped in a car seat next to her, bleeding from a gunshot wound to her head.
Stykes was five-months pregnant when she was found with multiple gunshot wounds and slouched in her vehicle.
Aubree survived the shooting, and four surgeries later, is largely the same little girl she was before.
But as the investigation enters its six-month mark, Schadle said detectives have hit a major breakthrough.
"We feel based on the information we have right now there was a -- and I won't use the term 'legitimate reason' -- but at least in (the shooter's) opinion there was a legitimate reason to commit this act," Schadle said. "Again, it's coming together slow. It's tedious, but we are making progress."
Schadle isn’t revealing anything more about a possible motive, but said the sheriff’s office is getting close – and has identified several persons of interest.
"We have a group of people that we are looking at,” he said. “We've got three or four people on board with the same corroborating statements. We feel that we've got a strong suspicion of persons or a person now.”
This development is great news for a family that hasn’t had a lot lately.
"It helps knowing that they're getting little pieces slowly," Stykes’ father David Dodson said.
Stykes’ parents, Mary and David Dodson, are in touch with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office almost every day.
"We do need these answers,” Mary said. “We have to know why. Is it going to bring our daughter back? No. But it might bring us some peace.”
In December, Stykes' parents filed a lawsuit against their son-in-law Shane Stykes, alleging he stopped letting them see their granddaughter Aubrey after the shooting.
Both sides reached an agreement in January and the custody suit was dropped.
Shane, 37, took a voluntary lie detector test after the shooting. He is the only person the sheriff’s office has publicly ruled out as a suspect.
Shane has repeatedly turned down WCPO’s requests for an interview.
As days pass by and more leads trickle in, the Dodsons say they are holding on to hope they will learn the truth of their daughter’s death.
"She's in heaven and the answers are the only thing we can do for her,” Mary said. “David and I loved her and raised her for 22 years, and for someone to take her from us and for us to not know why is not acceptable."
I-Team investigator Jason Law interviewed Brown County Chief Deputy John Schadle. Below is a Q&A breakdown of the investigation into Brittany Stykes’ death:
Jason Law (JL): This Friday marks six months since Brittany Stykes' shooting (August 28, 2013). Where does the investigation stand right now?
Chief Schadle (CS): This has been a very slow, tedious process. There have been some things that have happened that have slowed our efforts. Also... the investigation has led us into an area where you don't get a lot of cooperation. We did some interviews last week and were able to gather some more information.
We still feel very strongly that we will get to a positive conclusion on this case. We think we will solve it, but again there are some outside issues that have hampered our efforts in some respects. We're in an uphill battle here, baby steps. It's a slow process.
We've still got people who are willing to pass information to us. As long as this (doesn't turn into a) cold case, we feel positive that we'll get to the conclusion.
JL: Is it getting close to cold case status?
CS: No, I would have to say it's not close to a cold case status. As I said, we're still getting valuable information, what we determine to be good leads. But it takes time to follow those up. Sometimes we follow a lead and we find out part of it was true and part of it wasn't.
JL: It seemed like in the first couple of months your detectives were baffled.
CS: It was a very difficult case, finding motives for this… the worst part about it, there was a lot of information out there that sounded accurate but it was based on information that was (wrong). When you spend 40 hours following up a lead and run into a dead end because it was untrue information, you still spent 40 hours.
JL: So you've had a lot of false leads?
CS: We've had a lot of false leads. We've had a lot of speculation. There was a lot of area to cover. We're narrowing the search down and feel very confident that we're going to get this matter resolved.
JL: The recent 'leads' you're talking about – are those the most significant developments in this case to date?
CS: I’d have to say yes. When someone tells you something you try to find corroborating evidence or statements. In this case, we've got three or four people on board with the same corroborating statements. We feel that we've got very strong suspicion of persons or a person now. So now it's just a matter of cutting through the red tape so to speak and getting down to the nuts and bolts of it."
JL: Do you have suspects?
CS: I won't say we have suspects. We have a group of people that we are looking at. We firmly believe that one or more persons in that group would (become) a suspect at that point.
JL: Would you call them persons of interest?
CS: I guess that's the politically correct term they use today, yes.
JL: Do you have a motive?
CS: We do and I won't get into that right now because I don't want to compromise anything the investigators are working on right now. We feel based on the information we have right now there was a – and I won't use the term 'legitimate reason' – but at least in (the shooter’s) opinion there was a legitimate reason to commit this act. Again, it's coming together slow. It's tedious but we are making progress.
JL: Very often in criminal investigations, the investigators know who did it, they know why they did it – they just don't have the evidence to prove it.
CS: I learned a long time ago it's not always what you know, it's what you can prove. Unfortunately, although we may have strong suspicions, you don't go out and publicly point a finger or make an arrest based on assumptions and suspicions. You operate on facts and when we get enough information to show factually this is what happened and this is who's responsible, we will be having a press release and you will be informed on who we're looking at and why.
JL: Does the Brown County Sheriff's Office know what happened to Brittany Stykes?
CS: Not all the details, but again, it's coming together.
JL: How many resources do you still have committed to the case?
CS: (Lead detective) Buddy (Moore) is working it hard. I've been helping Buddy with it when I have some time. Actually, I can't say we have any particular number because if we got a hot lead to follow up I may pull three people off and say, 'that's what you guys are doing today.' This is our No.1 priority right now, that case. It has been since the day it happened and will continue to be until it goes cold or until we solve it.
JL: You have been under a lot of pressure to solve this, haven't you? Has the sheriff's office felt that pressure?
CS: You always do. Not just because it's a homicide. On any bigger case, you have that feeling that you're under the gun. In fairness, that's what the public expects. That's what our responsibility is. That's what they pay us to do. You try not to take these cases personally, but anybody who tells you they go home and forgets about the case, they're lying to you. You can't do that. So yeah, you take it serious.