On Tuesday, authorities announced that they had identified a suspect in the 1995 rape and murder of Nacole Smith, who was attacked on her way to school.
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Nacole Smith
Credit: atlanta pd

The cold case murder of a 14-year-old Atlanta girl has been solved after more than 25 years.

On Tuesday, authorities announced during a news conference that they had identified a suspect in the 1995 rape and murder of Nacole Smith, who was attacked on her way to school.

The suspect, who authorities did not publicly identify, died of liver and kidney failure in hospice care in August, according to police.

"Today for me is a bittersweet moment," Nacole's mother, Acquenellia Smith, said Tuesday. "I never imagined this person would be deceased, so many unanswered questions I had for him that I can never ask and get answers, but I would never say it was closure for me because I will live with this pain for the rest of my life."

Nacole disappeared while walking to school on June 7, 1995. She turned back after realizing she had forgotten something at home and took a shortcut through the woods, where she was "confronted by a man" who allegedly raped her before shooting her two times in the face, police said.

Investigators opened a "massive" investigation after the brutal assault, but a suspect was never found.

Retired Atlanta Detective Vince Velasquez said Tuesday that he decided to reopen the case on his own in 2002. He did not encounter any leads for two years.

Nacole Smith cold case
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In 2004, authorities were able to find a forensic match after the man assaulted another young girl in East Point, Georgia. The 13-year-old girl survived the attack and was able to provide investigators with a description of the assailant, Velasquez said.

Velasquez retired from the Atlanta Police Department in 2017, but the cold case investigation continued.

"If you've ever seen a case that the Atlanta Police Department put any effort into, this was it," he said during Tuesday's news conference. "This case has not died."

Detectives used DNA genealogy and forensic technology to identify the suspect. They were notified just before Christmas that the DNA from both attacks matched that of a man who had died in a hospice facility, authorities said.

"I'm not okay with the situation on how long it took us to get here, but I'm happy that we are finally here and that he is no longer out there able to do the things that he did to me and Nacole and to others," Brown, who was also at the press conference, said of her attacker. "This is a bittersweet moment. I'm mad that I didn't get that opportunity to face him."

Facing Nacole's mother, she added: "We didn't get the closure we needed, but we got some kind of resolution."

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or go to rainn.org.

This story originally appeared on people.com