More about Key

You know, I wish they wouldn’t turn this stuff into a cliche… I wish they’d say how much Debbie’s sister didn’t want to cry. That she’s strong for her sister. That – despite the bitterness – this was an upbeat occasion.

Gathering recalls missing woman

Man faces charges in presumed death

By ANNE BLYTHE, Staff Writer

CARRBORO — With tears in her eyes and halting emotion in her voice, Susan Key Gagnon stood in a restaurant across from the parking lot where her older sister was last seen seven years ago and talked about a family’s pain of not knowing the whereabouts of a loved one and the blur of hopes and doubts.

It was to be an upbeat occasion the gathering at Jade Palace to remember Deborah Leigh Key, whose disappearance and presumed death has haunted family and friends since November 1997.

Friends brought photos and many fond memories to share.

Gagnon wanted to say some words for the family, the first spoken publicly since Sept. 9, when police charged Andrew Douglas Dalzell, 27, a longtime suspect, with second-degree murder. Key was last seen with the suspect in the parking lot outside Sticks & Stones bar and pool hall, which used to be across Main Street from the Chinese restaurant.

“It’s just been great to see familiar faces. It just touches my heart,” Gagnon said before the tears welled.

Deborah Leigh Key, born Sept. 21, 1962, was a slight, delicate woman who almost always sported a big smile. She was the one who would invite a stray cat in at a friend’s house and with a gentle, childlike charm, persuade them to keep the critter. She loved music and socializing.

But Key, her sister lamented, was robbed of the everyday joys of seeing the sunset or of autumn leaves changing colors.

“We now know that she was murdered, and so that’s another step in this,” Gagnon said. “She was a very dynamic and outgoing person, and she was always there for you. She was also very kind and gentle and caring, and she brought love and joy into our lives. … All this is given so we will be able to enjoy her smiles, hear her laughter again.”

The family has been devastated, Gagnon said.

“In the United States, close to one-third of all homicides go unsolved. Deborah is not a statistic; she was my sister, a loving daughter, and had many, many friends. She is missed every single day.”

Dalzell remains in the Orange County jail. A probable cause hearing is set for Oct. 28, said Orange-Chatham District Attorney Carl Fox. Friends and family members plan to stay abreast of the court case.

They talked Saturday night of wearing black armbands the first day of the trial.

But then Joy Preslar, a longtime friend, interjected, “No, pink. We need to wear Debbie colors.”

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