More on Deborah Key

Friends remember vivacious woman who ‘everybody liked’

BY ANDREA UHDE : The Herald-Sun

Sep 9, 2004 : 10:43 pm ET

CARRBORO — It’s been seven years since Deborah Leigh Key vanished.

David Hurlbert’s memory has rusted some, his long hair a tad grayer than before. He can’t recall when his good friend’s birthday was, or in which closet Halloween photos of the costume-clad pals have been tucked away.

For Hurlbert, the feelings aren’t as raw as when the then-35-year-old Key disappeared and left little evidence of what happened that night in 1997. The feelings ebb and flow now, surfacing during random conversations or when watching the TV news, when the day’s top story seems all-too familiar: a missing woman’s dead body found.

Those are the worst days for Hurlbert and his wife Chris. They sit up and listen with the attention of a soldier, wondering if the reporter will say the name they can’t forget.

Key’s body still hasn’t been found, but on Thursday, the feelings returned. Andrew Douglas Dalzell was arrested and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Key, who had been missing for seven years.

Hurlbert recalled seeing Dalzell in the Carrboro bar where Key was last seen Dec. 1, 1997, the night she disappeared. He said he’s glad an arrest has been made. He’s been as patient with the case as he could, he said.

But “as the detective said at the time, these cases take many years and eventually a break comes,” Hurlbert said from his shaded porch in Carrboro.

However, the break in the case doesn’t bring closure. “She isn’t alive,” he said. “I’ll never see her again.”

But the woman who fought her way through Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease that paralyzed most of her body for many months, lives on in his memory, Hurlbert said.

He said he still chuckles when he thinks about the Grateful Dead concert he went to with Key in Greensboro. Key used a wheelchair at the time, so they were able to get close to the stage, he said.

They met through mutual friends, and Key quickly befriended the couple. She helped Chris Hurlbert choose a wedding dress, and she was a bridesmaid at the event.

“She was vivacious and someone who enjoyed life,” Chris Hurlbert said of Key. “She was a fighter. That sums it up.”

Joy Preslar worked at a daycare center with Key, and in their free time they’d dance and giggle in the crowd at AC/DC and other rock concerts. “She was the kind of friend you could call up and go, ‘Hey let’s go to the beach,’ ” Preslar said.

For Preslar, the pain of losing her friend hasn’t subsided. “I think about her every day, really,” she said. “It is very painful to not have her in my life anymore. It’s more painful to think that someone did her harm.

“We’ve been looking for her — not physically — but we’ve been looking for her in our hearts,” she said, pausing to sniffle.

“It is a shock to hear he’s been arrested and that it’s taken this long,” she continued.

By 5 p.m. Thursday, calls started streaming in to Preslar’s home. Every few minutes, the phone would ring, the sign of another friend in the old group calling to talk about news of the arrest. It was a sign of how many friends Key gathered during her life, Preslar said. “She was one of those people that everybody liked,” she said.

As memories continued flowing, a call beeped through on Preslar’s phone. She sighed softly. “It’s going to be a long night.”


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