Time feels as though it hasn't passed since March of 2014. Standing in a room made of hardened concrete in the Decatur County jail, Mark Gwyn from the TBI approaches the podium. A dozen camera lenses turn toward him as the words begin leaving his mouth and suddenly hope is gone: Holly Bobo would never be coming home. Raw human emotion erupts from her friends and family members standing in the room, their cries still permeate my subconscious.
That was more than three years ago.
No one ever expected the things we have heard throughout the course of this trial. Old wounds, finally given the chance to heal have been painfully pulled back open in the most public arena possible, with thousands more watching at home. Privacy is something no longer afforded to those connected in any way to this case. That is something which disappeared six years ago when the first satellite truck came rolling into town.
"The world may never know what happened to Holly Bobo," prosecutor Paul Hagerman told jurors as this trial began.
In so many ways, he's right.
After nine days of testimony, the only thing we know with absolute certainty is this: Holly Bobo is no longer alive. Her bones, her skull, her wallet were in the woods for so long that animals began scattering them across the forest floor. Perhaps destined to remain there in perpetuity had it not been for a man out searching the woods for the herb, ginseng.
But this has been a trial like none other. That much became painfully clear the moment Karen Bobo collapsed on the stand. Finding the truth here has complicated the most expensive investigation in our state's history.
It's important to not lose sight of the fact that it isn't just the Bobo's who have had their hearts broken: Zach Adams family has also been forced to suffer through a different, yet distinct kind of anguish.
If you believe Jason Autry, the final moments of Holly's life were gruesome at best, the stuff of nightmares at worst. One gunshot to the back of her head so powerful, a medical examiner says, that it shattered her front left cheek bone as it passed through her skull. One can only hope she didn't suffer no matter who pulled the trigger.
If you believe former TBI Agent Terry Dicus, who spent two years chasing down every lead and every tip, the state still doesn't have the right person. The truth in this case is elusive - harder to find than the nursing student who never showed up for class that day.
And yet this is what stays with me the most. For two weeks I've witnessed first-hand what hardcore drugs are doing to our rural communities. Witness after witness, convicted criminal after convicted criminal, they have all been so cavalier, so nonchalant about spending their days high on cocktails of near lethal combinations of meth and morphine. Most of us can't comprehend how easy it is to score something so illegal and dangerous. But connecting the pieces of what happened to Holly seems grounded in one thing, those who may know something are addicts or recovering addicts.
There have been rumors that Holly's parents may leave Parsons after this trial is over. Could you blame them? Their tiny town of 2,000 people will always be defined by what happened to their daughter. There is the Parsons that existed before April 13, 2011 and the Parsons that exists now, the latter of which is a place where Karen and Dana Bobo have been forced to suffer through their own kind of personal hell. Every drive to work, every trip to the grocery store requires passing signs, pictures, ribbons, constant reminders of the unspeakable things that happened to their daughter. While placed throughout town with the best intentions, they are impossible to ignore. Who among us could bare to live in such place?
The sad reality of this situation is that no verdict, no conviction, no amount of evidence will ever change what happened on Swan Johnson Road on that warm spring morning.
But regardless of the outcome in court, this family and this town are finally getting answers about what happened to that nursing student, whose long blonde hair was rivaled only by her seemingly endless potential. They are answers that are hard to stomach but they are answers nonetheless.
Did Zach Adams kill Holly Bobo? Jurors will decide his fate. But only he truly knows the answer to that question.
Chris Conte is a reporter for the NewsChannel 5 Network and has covered the Holly Bobo case extensively since 2012.