The brutal murder of two South Bay boys that devastated two families and disturbed a South Bay community has been memorialized with the creation of an education center.
The Jonathan Sellers and Charlie Keever Educational Activity Center remembers Charlie Keever, 13, and Jonathan Sellers, 9, slain 19 years ago when they were abducted while riding their bicycles along the Otay River banks.
More than 200 friends, family, local elected officials and law enforcement authority gathered near the Bayshore Bikeway in Imperial Beach Monday, less than one mile from the murder, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“Today we’re here to celebrate the lives of two young boys,” County Supervisor Greg Cox said. “…I don’t think there’s been any project that’s touched my heart more than this project.”
Milena Sellers-Phillips contacted Cox last year to begin working on the project at the end of 13th Street and on March 27, the County Board of Supervisors approved the project.
The nautilus shell-themed design for the center is made of colored manufactured tumbled glass and mother of pearl shells for the concrete flat work.
Personal items were also added, including natural sea glass to represent tears and pictures of Charlie and Jonathan.
“This project has been a long time in the making — some people would say too long,” Cox said. “But there have been two individuals who have persevered.”
Sellers-Phillips and Keever thanked their families and those involved in the investigation.
“You don’t know how much it means to me to have this in memory of our boys,” Sellers-Phillips said. “I’m just so grateful.”
Mayor Jerry Sanders said the center is a reminder that the boys will be in the minds of the community forever.
“These women have handled this tragedy with grace and dignity,” Sanders said.
Inscribed within the spiral of the nautilus is a quote by Rachel Carson which states, “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
Following the March 27, 1993, murder, police spent thousands of hours investigating and interviewing potential suspects over the next several years.
They collected, froze and stored DNA samples from hundreds of suspects.
Retired San Diego Police criminalist and DNA analyst Annette Peer was assigned to the case.
“I worked through it for weeks and couldn’t find any significant DNA leads,” Peer said.
In 2001 frozen samples were retested with new DNA methods and linked to Scott Erskine, already serving a 70-plus-year sentence for the brutal rape of a woman.
“It was an incredible moment... Probably the moment I’ll remember the most was calling Sgt. Holmes. He kept the case alive in our minds.”
In 2003, Erskine was tried on two counts of murder with multiple special allegations and found guilty. In 2004 Erskine was sentenced to death row at San Quentin State Prison.
Retired San Diego Police Department lead investigator Sgt. Bill Holmes remains close with both mothers.
“This case is something none of us will ever forget or the monster who did it,” Holmes said. “The significance of today is to show the tenacity of the families… It’s a way of dealing with what happened with the boys in a productive way.”
The center will be used as an outdoor classroom for local school groups.