JACKSON COUNTY, Ark. – County Road 41, where asphalt and gravel meet and a pink cross, marks the spot where one story ends and another begins.
“Sydney Sutherland is my baby girl, my best friend,” said Sydney’s mother Maggy Sutherland.
Maggy said the mother/daughter duo were always side-by-side.
“We go to ball games and instead of sitting with friends, she would sit with me,” said Maggy.
Sydney, just 25-years-old, was a little sister.
“She was always the baby,” said Sydney’s big brother Sam Sutherland. “Family events, she let you know what you needed to bring and how it was going to go.”
Sydney was the only girl.
“From either side of the family, she was the only girl. We had all boys,” said Maggy.
It started as just a morning jog
Days before their nightmare would begin, the family was on vacation in Florida, a regular getaway trip.
Sam’s then five-month-old daughter, with Sydney, better known as Aunt Sassie.
“She loved being an aunt. That’s who she was,” recalls Sam.
The Sutherlands got back to Jackson County late Tuesday, August 18, 2020.
“When we got home, it was straight to bed. The next morning, it was back to work,” said Sam.
After a workout with her trainer, Sydney was captured on a surveillance camera the next morning unloading from the family’s vacation. It’s the last photo the family has of her.
“She said, ‘I’m going to go run.’ I was like, ‘Sydney, don’t run today. We’ve been gone, rest,’” recalls Maggy. “’You left the trainer. You did an hour hard workout.’ She goes, ‘It just releases me.’”
The 25-year-old went for her run on Jackson County Road 41. A few hours later, the phone rang. It was Sydney’s boyfriend.
“He called me right after five [in the afternoon] and he says, ‘Have you seen Sydney?’ And, I said ‘No,’” said Maggy.
Calls to Sydney went to voicemail.
“My heart just dropped,” said Maggy. “Something was just not right.” recalled Maggy.
Texts went unanswered, Snapchats unread.
“My fear was being kidnapped on that road,” said Maggy.
An all hands on deck rescue started for Sydney.
“We were just trying to find any clue that we could,” said Sam.
Hundreds of volunteers descended on County Road 41. Detectives searched for anyone who may have seen something.
Sam said he received a phone call, one of the first few tips, from someone he knew in town.
“[He] called me and said Quake seen her heading south over the overpass, headed back home, and that’s all that was basically said. We knew the last sighting of her was at the interstate heading home,” Sam said, “by Quake.”
From searcher to suspect
Quake Lewellyn, 28, a familiar face, graduated high school just a few years before Sydney, joined the search. Maggy remembers his approach.
“He just walked up and stood by a tree,” she said noting Quake appeared to be lurking, maybe trying to listen in, near the Command Post.
“I walked over to him and I said, ‘Quake, can you tell me anything? What was Sydney doing? Did you see anything? Did you meet anybody?’ He goes, ‘Nope, she was just running.’ I said, ‘You don’t have anything you can tell me?’ [He replied,] ‘Nope she was just running,’” Maggy recalled, adding that the conversation ended quickly.
That very next morning, Friday, August 21, 2020, Quake and his father went to Arkansas State Police for an interview. Sam recalls that Quake’s father was the one who called in one of those first few tips about Sydney.
State troopers say the two allowed investigators to search their truck. That was where detectives say they found blood inside the cracks of the tailgate.
Back on County Road 41, there was a glimmer of hope in the search.
“We were down on hands and knees crawling and I was like, ‘I found a bead. Sydney’s been here,’” said Maggy.
But as that hope started setting in, Sam’s phone rang. Jackson County Sheriff David Lucas needed him to gather the family.
“That was the hardest trip I’d ever have to take,” said Sam. “They told me there was a body discovered and that’s basically all they told me but I knew we were going up there to break it to her [Maggy] too — that part was the worst part.”
Detectives found Sydney.
“He just broke it to me. It was devastating,” said Maggy.
Even harder for this devastated mother to grasp was why Quake Lewellyn allegedly picked her daughter. Sam said the two knew each other but were not close.
Troopers said Lewellyn passed Sydney, turned around at the overpass and then hit her with his truck.
“We don’t [know] where or what happened at the time,” said Sam.
Court documents show that during a consent search of Quake Lewellyn’s phone, agents found a Life 360 phone app which tracks the phone’s geo location.
“On August 21, 2020, Sutherland’s deceased body was located just a few yards from where the 360 app indicated Lewellyn’s location was,” a search warrant document stated.
Lewellyn is accused of kidnapping, raping and killing Sydney. The prosecutor said last year he is considering the death penalty. Maggy wants Lewellyn to face the death penalty.
“As of right now, I’m going to say yes,” she said.
The Sutherlands said they don’t think they’ll find a day to forgive Lewellyn.
Moving past the grief
Maggy said it was an outpouring of support, from around the world, helping her family through its darkest moment. The family has received dozens of cards.
“Beautiful blond hair, dark brown eyes, pearl white smile, that lights up the night, family was her world,” Maggy reads from one card.
At Sydney’s final resting spot, there’s another bright pink cross.
“We don’t want her to be forgotten,” said Maggy.
It’s a symbol to remember a young woman taken too soon and an everyday reminder for every parent, driving or just jogging by.
“Don’t forget, when you see your child, tell them you love them. It could be your last words,” said Maggy.
Lewellyn has plead not guilty in the case and is not scheduled to be back in court for several months.
The Sutherlands are creating a foundation in Sydney’s name. There’s a scholarship for future Arkansas State University students pursuing an education in the medical field.