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Father who spent 22 years trying to find his daughter's killer commits suicide outside the sheriff's office

A Texas father who spent much of his life searching for answers in the 2002 murder of his 28-year-old daughter committed suicide outside a sheriff's office.

Jerry Harris, a 76-year-old Marine and Vietnam veteran, committed suicide around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning in the parking lot of the Fannin County Sheriff's Office in Bonham, authorities told local news agency KXII. In a letter he left behind, Harris explained that his suicide had nothing to do with his daughter's murder case, the outlet reported.

Harris had spent the past 22 years hoping that justice would be served following the murder of his daughter, 28-year-old Jennifer Harris.

Jennifer was last seen alive on May 12, 2002. Her green Jeep was abandoned on the side of the road. Six days later, her naked, badly decomposed body was found floating in the Red River by fishermen, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. The cause of death was ruled homicide, but the case has remained unsolved since then.

Jim Holloway, a private investigator who worked on the case, told KXII he hopes the murder will be reinvestigated now that the county has a new sheriff, a new district judge and a new district attorney.

“I just remember him being so sad and depressed about it, he just didn't know who to turn to,” Holloway said of Harris. “He was just stunned, consumed with sadness and grief.”

Cody Shook, who was elected as Fannin County's new sheriff after a runoff election last month, said in a statement that all of the department's unsolved cases would be re-examined now that modern technology is more widely available.

“All families have a right to closure on their loved ones' cases, and I look forward to gaining insight into the cases and seeing if there are any investigative opportunities that can be utilized,” Shook said.

The case of Jennifer Harris has never been forgotten in the small community and even received national attention when CBS 48 hours reported on the murder back in 2018.

The broadcast said Sheriff Mark Johnson had promised to continue the investigation into the murder of Harris' eldest daughter, but the case had stalled due to improper handling of evidence.

“I think he's serious about trying to solve this case,” Harris said at the time.

Before Jennifer’s body was found, Harris said 48 hours that he “got about three to four hours of sleep a night… spent the rest of the time… searching, driving around country roads… looking for buzzards.”

“That's what I did… until they found her,” he added.

After the show aired, Harris said he was grateful that the show was able to bring her case into the spotlight.

“It hasn't gotten easier over the years, but I'm at a point where I can handle it much better,” Harris said KXII.

In 2022, Sheriff Johnson said there was still not enough evidence to convict anyone in Jennifer's death.

“There is no direct connection between anyone and this murder,” Johnson said. “We all have our suspicions and beliefs about who it is, but without facts you can't say, 'You are the perpetrator.'”

The organization's website states that Texas Crime Stoppers is offering a reward of up to $3,000 to anyone who provides information leading to the arrest of the person(s) responsible for Jennifer's murder.

If you are feeling distressed or are having difficulty coping, you can speak to the Samaritans in confidence on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email [email protected] or call the Samaritan website to find details of your nearest branch. If you live in the United States and you or someone you know needs mental health help right now, call or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org to access the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline online chat. This is a free, confidential crisis hotline available to anyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you are in another country, you can contact www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.