April 14, 2011
ST. PETERSBURG – An empty chair with yellow sunflowers marked the seat that Kelly Rothwell would have taken, as Cadet Class 177 of the St. Petersburg Police Academy graduated Wednesday evening.The cadets were given their badges and certificates for completion of the academy program, as a crowd of law enforcement dignitaries and family members watched. The mood was positive but took a decidedly somber tone as the program began with a tribute to Rothwell, who has been missing since March 12.
Rothwell’s family, friends and investigators worry that she may be the victim of foul play. It is uncharacteristic of Rothwell not to stay in contact with loved ones, yet alone miss a day of police training school. Yet she is gone without a trace, and there has been so indication the 35-year-old has used her cell phone or credit cards.
She was last seen at a Clearwater Chili’s restaurant.
A lone bagpiper walked slowly down the aisle toward the dais where police chiefs from Tampa Bay municipalities sat with Academy Director John Dressback and coordinators Joe Smith and Lauren Dupont Wednesday.
Seated in the front row and escorted by cadets from class 178 were fraternal twins Lindsay and Lauren Rothwell, Kelly Rothwell’s sisters, and Donna Scharrett, Rothwell’s best friend.
Scharrett has been the most vocal local advocate for keeping the disappearance of her best friend in the public eye. The Rothwell sisters flew down to Florida from Baltimore Tuesday evening to attend the graduation and to receive a plaque honoring Rothwell’s achievements at the academy.
As the cadets entered into the large room and marched down the aisle, each carried a single orange Gerber Daisy and placed it in a vase at the front of the podium. Rothwell’s favorite color is orange, and the crowd was peppered with people wearing orange as a tribute to honor her.
The St. Pete Police Color Guard presented the colors, then John Dressback addressed the crowd and spoke of how this class, 177, had to endure more than any other class during its time at the academy.
“No Class,” he said, “has had to endure the loss of three veteran police officers and now one of their own, Kelly Rothwell, is missing. We’ve had a tough time here, but it has made us stronger, more determined and closer as a family, because that’s what we are.”
Dressback spoke fondly of Rothwell, whom he cited as a leader among her cadet class. Cadets Richard Bishop and Bill Nobles, with whom Rothwell was very close, came to the stage to speak of Rothwell.
Both men held back obvious emotion as they asked Rothwell’s sisters to the stage to accept a plaque from the cadet class. The plaque, designed from black granite in the shape of a police badge, paid tribute to Rothwell.
Part of the message stated: “We will never stop looking for you… Can’t stop, Won’t Stop.” Bishop and Nobles then presented the vase of orange Gerber Daisies to the sisters. They also presented them with a smaller plaque, with Rothwell’s name and her favorite saying; “When You Allow Yourself to Listen, Your Dreams Unfold.”
After the ceremony, the crowd went outside and was given candles to light as Rothwell’s plaque was placed against the flag pole, a flag pole that, as a cadet, Rothwell had taken on as her responsibility, leading the ceremony of raising and lowering the American flag for the cadet class.
As family and friends gathered around, the candles were placed around the plaque, the dying light of the day reflecting in the dark granite.
It was a silent prayer from the Cadet Class 177 to a fellow cadet… one who is still missing.