DANBY — A quarter-mile past the border between Dorset and Danby, along a lonely stretch of gravel road, sits a poignant reminder buried in the snow. It’s a mark of what happened here one year ago.
The makeshift memorial, set down by a grieving family last summer, is made up of memories and photographs, candles and keepsakes, wrapped in plastic and buried at the spot where Isaiah Rodriguez was brutally murdered.
Thursday was the first anniversary of the homicide of Rodriguez, a young man from Massachusetts who was found shot to death, lying on the side of Danby Mountain Road in the snow with a winter coat and summer sandals on his feet. The lead detective in the case came to dig the memorial out of the snow as a reminder of a life lost too soon and of the work still left to do.
Rodriguez was three days shy of his 18th birthday last February when his frozen body was found lying in a snowbank 10 feet from the edge of the road. The Springfield, Mass., teen was found by a passerby the following day with multiple gunshot wounds to his torso.
For the past year, the Vermont State Police’s Major Crime Unit has been investigating the brutal crime. So far, there have been no arrests.
Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Tyson Kinney lives with the as-yet unsolved crime every single day.
“This is always in the back of my mind,” Kinney said Thursday, at the scene of the murder. “I think about Isaiah and his family every day. Even if I’m not working on it, I’m thinking about what else needs to be done.”
Kinney took the time to mark the anniversary by donning snow boots and grabbing a shovel to dig out the memorial. It revealed itself after just one or two shovelfuls.
“I remember it being right near this tree,” Kinney said. “There it is.”
After brushing off the snow and setting the photographs and plastic flowers up onto the snowbank, Kinney leaned against the shovel and glanced over to where the body was found.
“I don’t know if this is the right way to say this, but it’s almost like a hallowed ground kind of thing here. It’s sacred, I guess. Although this is just a job, to me, to our department, it’s more personal than that. Knowing that someone lost their life here like this is heartbreaking.”
The Banner asked Kinney about the year that has passed since the murder.
“Anniversaries are always tough,” Kinney says. “It signifies a year since a family lost someone, but it’s also a stark reminder to us that there’s still work to be done and that we’re not done.
“Hopefully, we can get this resolved for Isaiah’ family soon.
“Some cases, you know, the families don’t have a lot of interaction with law enforcement, outside of our victim’s services department. Other cases, they want that connection. They send text messages regularly wanting constant updates. And it’s those types of cases where you become attached to the family. And that’s where the cases become personal. Because you see the grief, you see the loss. You see the struggle that they face every single day. And you’re the person with the answers. Ultimately, nothing is going to bring their loved one back, but being able to tell them what’s happening, trying to answer all of the unanswered questions for them is something that I know me and my colleagues really work hard for.”
Kinney has kept in contact with Rodriquez’s family throughout the investigation, texting with them on holidays, on birthdays, wishing each other a wonderful holiday.
“Isaiah’s family is one that I’ve become attached to. It’s just a matter of I never want to push myself on the family, but I want them to know that I’m here if they need it,” he said. “And if they feel comfortable and feel more connected to their loved one by establishing a relationship with me, then that’s what I’m here to do.”
“Today marks one year without Isaiah,” wrote Isaiah’s mom, Damarielys Rodriguez, from her home in Springfield, Mass., after visiting the cemetery where her son is interred. “No words could ever say how sad and empty I feel today. The angels came for Isaiah much sooner than I planned. I’m doing my best to try and understand why it was him.”
Isaiah’s family also wanted to let people know that they fully stand behind Det. Kinney.
“It gives us hope and peace to know we have Tyson and his team working hard to bring justice for Isaiah,” the family said in a text message to the Banner. “We are beyond grateful for everything he has done and continues to do for our family.”
Kinney said Thursday that the murder investigation is moving forward and that crucial DNA evidence came back from the state lab that will potentially have a significant impact on the case.
“We found an item of interest at the scene last year that we hoped would yield some evidence, so we sent it out. This stuff takes a long time. Today, just this morning, we got the results, DNA evidence that will move us closer to finding justice for Isaiah’s family,” Kinney said.
“Hopefully, I’ll have some good news soon. They should know that, Isaiah’s family, and that we’re never going to stop. I know we’re nearing the end. We think we have the people responsible. It’s a matter of making sure and doing everything we can so there’s nothing we’re missing.
Kinney thinks this could wrap up in the coming months.
“I’m hoping we’ll have this done by spring or early summer. It all depends on how busy we get and what’s coming in next.”
Regardless of how busy the department or Kinney gets, he has a clear message for Rodriquez’s family.
“Isaiah has not been forgotten.”
And he has not been forgotten by his mother, who wrote directly to Isaiah in her message to the Banner.
“I’ll forever cherish the moments when I held you in my arms when you graced me with your charm. Isaiah, my love for you will always be there. You will always be my baby. We love you and miss you badly. Until we see each other again, rest in peace in Paradise. I love you.”
Kinney keeps a pin on the roof of his car, a photo of Isaiah given to him by the family many months ago. Some days he’ll pull the pin down and place it on his coat or near his computer at work just to remind him of the job he has left to do.
“I see it every day,” he said as he grabbed hold of the button on the lapel of his overcoat. “I’ll wear this until the end, until there is justice.”