OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma woman whose 8-year-old daughter disappeared more than 20 years ago and is presumed dead said Wednesday that she is not celebrating the death in prison of the man convicted of killing the girl, and remains hopeful her daughter’s remains will be recovered.
Shannon Hazen said she is instead praying for the family of Anthony Palma, who state prison officials say was killed in his cell Friday at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
“I forgave a nameless, faceless predator a decade ago,” years before Palma, 59, was connected through DNA to the disappearance of Kirsten Hatfield, Hazen said while breaking into audible sobs in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. “I can’t back off the forgiveness.”
Kirsten disappeared from the family’s home in Midwest City in 1997 and the case remained cold until 2015 when DNA found in blood on the girl’s bedroom window and on her underwear found in the yard was linked to Palma.
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He was convicted in 2017 and sentenced to life without parole.
Hazen said she wrote three letters to Palma in prison, asking only if he knew God, and replied respectfully, “until he ultimately told me to stop writing him, and I did.”
“I never asked him about Kirsten. The only question I ever posed to him was ‘did he have a Bible?’ He did not,” Hazen said. She said he wrote in the final letter that asked her to no longer communicate with him that his spiritual needs were being met by a church that visited the prison.
Prison officials say Palma died after being found unresponsive in his cell and the suspect is his cellmate, Raymond Padillo, 38, who is serving three life terms for murders in Oklahoma County.
Department of Corrections spokesman Matt Elliott declined to give a suspected motive, but said inmates convicted of crimes against children are often the target of violence by fellow inmates.
“Oh yeah, those who are serving time for victimizing children, they are definitely more vulnerable, as are others such as former law enforcement officers,” Elliott said.
No one else has been linked to Kirsten’s disappearance and Hazen said she knows of no one who may know where her daughter’s remains are, but holds out hope they will be found.
“I’m not going to give up hope, I’m just not. I don’t have to at this point,” Hazen said.
Elliott said the Department of Corrections is investigating Palma’s death and will provide a report to the district attorney.
The body was sent to the state medical examiner’s office for an autopsy to determine the cause of death, a process that can take two to four months, according to a spokesman.