Mom's 'Caravan to Catch a Killer' stops in Vt.

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April 30, 2012, 7:47 pm

(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Maggie Zingman is not a detective, but she's on a nationwide hunt for a killer. "I'm not going to live in fear," she told New England Cable News as she drove through Burlington, Vt. Monday.

Zingman has been criss-crossing the country in her bright pink and purple car. It is wrapped in photographs of her daughter. "It touches everybody's heart," Zingman said.

Brittany Phillips was just 18 when she was found dead in her Tulsa, Okla. apartment in September 2004. The college student had been raped and suffocated. Despite DNA evidence from the crime scene, police have yet to catch the murderer. They have tried comparing the evidence to around 2,000 men, Zingman said, but so far, they have made no matches. "Losing a child is a never-ending pain," Zingman sighed.

Brittany's mom suspects the attacker may have fled the Tulsa area, so she's taking her "Caravan to Catch a Killer" as far as she can. Zingman said she has already driven more than 64,000 miles. Her aim is to use her hard-to-miss vehicle to shine attention on the case.

Text on the car and flyers Zingman distributes tell people of possible traits of her daughter's killer. Those include a possible habit of staying out alone at night, that he may have gained access to his victim's address through a customer service job, that he may have rage issues, and may have victimized others sexually.

"I felt an immediate connection [to Zingman] as a mother," Merle Siiro of Williston, Vt. said after meeting her. "This is going to stick with me."

In this leg of her journey, Zingman has stopped in Boston, Manchester, N.H. and Portland, Maine. In downtown Burlington, Vt., Zingman, a trauma psychologist, met plenty of people who told her they were sympathetic to her more than seven-year wait for answers. "My heart goes out to you," Siiro told her.

NECN asked Zingman how long she intends on keeping her campaign going. "Well, in some ways, I say forever," she answered. "I have to accept we may not find her killer. I don't like doing that, so I'm going to keep trying."

In Vermont, anyone convicted of a felony has to submit DNA to a criminal database. Zingman would like to see more expansive databases all around the country, including ones that house DNA of suspects in lesser crimes. It may be an uphill climb: opponents say the collections can amount to warrantless, intrusive searches of people who may not even be connected to certain crimes at all.

Still, Maggie Zingman said she will keep pushing for laws mandating DNA collection at first arrest to identify offenders early in their criminal careers. She'll also never stop asking people to phone in tips to investigators in Tulsa at 918-596-9141.

Zingman hopes one day, her long mission will finally end in justice for Brittany. "He maybe took her voice but he's not going to take mine," the mother said of her daughter's killer. "He never will."

To visit the "Caravan to Catch a Killer" website, click here.

Tags: murder, Burlington, Vt., Jack Thurston, Maggie Zingman, Brittany Phillips
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