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Kelly Rothwell Missing: Mystery, Pain Linger One Year After Police Cadet's Disappearance

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An undated photo of missing Florida police cadet Kelly Rothwell.
An undated photo of missing Florida police cadet Kelly Rothwell.

Family and friends of missing Florida police cadet Kelly Rothwell marked the one-year anniversary of her still-unsolved disappearance on Monday.

Rothwell's best friend, Donna Scharrett, did not mince words during a press conference at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

"Kelly Rothwell is dead, and her body is out there. It's out there dumped like a piece of trash. She doesn't deserve that. ... That's not where she needs to be," Scharrett said.

According to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, Rothwell's case remains a top priority.

"We're gonna keep going. We'll never stop," Gualtieri said. "We'll keep going until we find Kelly, whether it's tomorrow, a week, a month, a year or 10 years."

There has been no arrest in the case.

Rothwell, 35, was last seen on March 12, 2011, when she left a restaurant in Clearwater, Fla., with Scharrett.

"We had lunch together at Chili's restaurant and about 3:30 p.m. said goodbye in the parking lot," Scharrett told The Huffington Post. "That's the last time anyone heard [from] her."

Rothwell had recently left a hotel job to enroll in the Pinellas Police Academy in St. Petersburg, Fla. She was planning to break up with longtime boyfriend David Perry, according to Scharrett, who described him as "controlling."

Speaking with TV host Nancy Grace in March 2011, Ken Williamson, a neighbor who lives below the couple's condo, said his wife heard a series of loud noises coming from above that afternoon.

"Mary, my wife, was inside at the time," Williamson said. "It was probably around -- oh, sometime around 4:00 on the 12th, and she heard a series of loud thuds up above the ceiling where our bedroom is directly below their master bedroom. And somebody, like, threw something heavy on the floor three or four times. And then it got real quiet."

A short time after that, Williamson said, they heard somebody upstairs vacuuming.

Scharrett called the sheriff's office on March 13 and asked deputies to check on Rothwell after mutual friends told her Rothwell had failed to show up for a planned get-together. When deputies arrived at the condo, there was no sign of the couple and both their cars were gone. Later that day, they found Rothwell's green 2007 Subaru Outback on a street about two miles south of her home.

Detectives later discovered that Perry, a 47-year-old retired corrections officer, had left Florida for New York. He has since repeatedly ignored requests to be interviewed, the sheriff's office said.

In June 2011, authorities in Florida named Perry a suspect in Rothwell's disappearance. Two months later Perry married a woman he had met online. The couple divorced in November. In the interim, Perry was arraigned on unrelated insurance fraud and grand larceny charges in Elmira, N.Y.

Investigators have conducted multiple searches for Rothwell, but to date they have been unable to locate any sign of her.

"Kelly's remains could be anywhere from Indian Rocks Beach to New York," Gualtieri said. "It really is looking for a needle in a haystack."

Rothwell's family is offering a $25,000 reward for anyone who has information leading to her whereabouts. On Monday, Gualtieri announced his department would match the amount with confiscated drug money, bringing the total to $50,000.

"It's so important to her family and friends that there be some kind of resolution," Gualtieri said. "We want closure for the family."

Scharrett echoed the sheriff's statement.

"The only thing I hope for -- from Day 1 -- is that we find Kelly's remains and get them back to her mother," Scharrett said. "I know justice will be done."

David Lohr will be discussing the Kelly Rothwell case on HLN's "Nancy Grace" on Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST.

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