PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Who would want to kill the beloved neighborhood convenience store owner?
That question has troubled detectives for nearly two decades.
Deborah Tyrell, 46, was behind the counter of her Bucklin Street store in Providence when she was gunned down on Jan. 30, 2004.
Longtime customers of the West End Mart were shocked to hear that Deborah, who affectionately went by Debbie, had been killed.
“When I wanted someone to talk to, I’d come talk to Debbie,” one customer told 12 News at the time. “She’d brighten up my day, give me some advice. Now who am I going to talk to?”
Debbie was one of six children. Her younger brother Jim Tyrell described her as a hard worker who was devoted to her customers.
“She would give them cigarettes and say, ‘Hey, come back Friday and pay me,'” Jim recalled. “She’d give them a gallon of milk [and say], ‘Come back Friday and pay me.’ If they didn’t, she didn’t worry about it.”
“She would always try and take care of other people, that’s just the type of person she was,” he continued.
Jim will never forget the night Debbie died. The family spent the evening celebrating their parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.
Unfortunately, Debbie couldn’t be there.
“Debbie had called and said she couldn’t make it because she had to work,” Jim said. “She left the store open because she felt she needed to take care of her customers.”
The family was waiting for Debbie to show up after work when the phone rang.
It was the Providence Police Department.
The siblings rushed from the party to their parents’ house, where detectives told them the unimaginable — Debbie was dead.
“It was almost surreal,” her older brother Steve Tyrell recalled.
“We didn’t get any real answers, and we still haven’t really gotten any answers,” her younger sister Barbara George said.
Barbara said her sister never felt unsafe while at work.
“She got to know everybody there, so she felt protected,” George explained. “She didn’t have any enemies.”
Detective Captain Roger Aspinall told 12 News that investigators at the time worked through a number of theories, including whether Debbie’s death was the result of a robbery gone wrong.
But nothing had been stolen.
“Deborah was well liked and well respected within the community,” Aspinall said.
There were no working cameras in the store, and no one saw what happened. Barbara said her sister put all her savings into opening the store, which could explain why her cameras weren’t working.
DNA evidence was collected from items at the crime scene, according to Aspinall. It was tested at the time and again in 2014, though a suspect was never positively identified.
Aspinall remains hopeful that new DNA technology could be the key to cracking the case.
“This family doesn’t have any type of closure,” Aspinall added. “I think it’s the duty of the Providence Police Department to try again.”
For Debbie’s siblings, finding their sister’s killer would be a weight lifted for the entire family, especially their elderly parents.
“I think they need closure before they pass,” Steve said. “They’re both almost 90 now, and it’s been tough for them.”
Anyone with information regarding Debbie’s death is asked to contact the Providence Police Department at (401) 272-3121.