By Victoria Reed
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
A pause for reflection, then “she was so beautiful, but short lived.”
Carolyn Buffill-Casella compares the life of Alesha Suarez to a butterfly. The musings of a protective sister tormented by the untimely death of her sister Alesha in Spring 2002.
For Carolyn, the timing of Alesha’s death is particularly difficult to digest, as she had just returned to New York from an impromptu trip to visit Suarez in Orlando the day before. The trip was more of a necessity as recent bouts of anxiety and feelings of unease concerning her sister’s well-being troubled Carolyn. A sister’s intuition, per se.
Things were going extremely well for Alesha in early 2002. The young mother had just graduated college while raising a three-year-old and juggling a new romantic relationship. She had her life going in the right direction.
“It went from wonderful to a nightmare,” Carolyn said of the moments following her return home.
Carolyn shares details of her 17-year crusade for justice weighted by the possibility that Alesha’s killer was someone her sister knew. But even more devastating, the possibly that this person will not be held accountable.
For Carolyn, memories of Alesha growing up shouldering her share of a rough, abusive childhood meant that the sisters were very close. Alesha often chose to remain at Carolyn’s side, albeit quietly. According to Carolyn, her sister had a particularly quiet demeanor and was often overlooked. This made Carolyn much more protective of Alesha and strengthened their bond. That fateful trip to check on her sister was attributed Carolyn’s need to protect.
The trip to Orlando was filled with good times for Buffill-Casella. She had the opportunity to check up on her little sister and spend time with their brother. They shared a laugh at the suggestion that Carolyn “should move to Florida” and lovingly debated that “Florida is for old people.”
With her mind at ease, Carolyn headed back home to New York. Exhausted upon arrival, she had picked up her phone to reach out to Alesha, but eventually decided against it. That night, content and fatigued, she decided to hang up the phone. A call was never placed to Alesha. To this day, Carolyn deeply regrets hanging up the phone without talking to her sister.
The events that followed were unimaginable. On her return to work following the Florida trip, Carolyn was approached by her boss and co-workers, waiting to connect her with a distressed caller on the phone. It was a family member, and they simply said, “it’s Alesha, it’s a homicide.”
Carolyn remembers being in a fog, thinking over to herself, “This can’t be real.” Her voice begins to weaken and trail as she accounts the tragic news. She was numb. Nauseated.
On March 4, 2002, authorities responded to a fire at Cypress Club Apartments where the body of 23-year-old Alesha Suarez was recovered. She was badly burned and suffered multiple stab wounds to her neck and chest. Officials speculated the fire was intentional, an effort to cover-up evidence. With no signs of forced entry, officials believed that Alesha must have known her killer. At the time, a witness reported seeing a young, white male fleeing the apartment immediately prior to hearing the alarm. While there was evidence to link Alesha’s ex-boyfriend to the fire his initial arrest for murder did not hold up. He was released due to lack of evidence.
Prior conversations shared between the sisters revealed growing concern from Alesha that her ex was becoming obsessive and jealous. For Carolyn, she is conflicted with notions of not doing enough. Still, she wishes she could have done more to protect her little sister. Protect her 17 years ago and from being forgotten and overlooked 17 years later.
The crusade to ensure her sister’s murder is solved has meant continuously running into obstacles, especially where media attention and involvement are concerned. Carolyn details her concerns of Hispanic heritage and the seemingly social avoidance to covering stories like Alesha’s.
Alesha Suarez has a voice – Carolyn Buffill-Casella. She will always be her sister’s protector and her advocate. Her entire family will always fight for justice.
She continues to fight for justice all these years later.
Anyone who has any information about this case, the identity, or location of the suspect(s) is encouraged to contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 407-254-7000. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for up to a$5,000 reward, call Central Florida Crimeline at (800) 423-TIPS(8477).
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