EXCLUSIVE: Mother of Laura Smither talks grief and forgiveness in one-on-one interview

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Laura Smither's mother shares journey, Kaitlin McCulley reports.

In a photo album filled with pictures of 12-year-old Laura Smither, her mother Gay finds pure joy.

"These were the really, really happy years," Gay Smither said.

Laura loved to dance.

"She was always orchestrating little performances with the other children," Smither said. "She'd say, 'You do this, and you do this.' She'd sort of arrange the whole thing."

In fact, it was Laura's drive to get become a better dancer that led her to go for a jog the morning of April 3, 1997.

"That was because she had read a book that inspired her to work on her cardio, that she would be able to hold her arabesque higher," Smither said. "So that really took me by surprise that morning when she asked to go out."

Laura never came back.

Eyewitness News was there 19 years ago as Gay Smither, her husband Bob and hundreds of community volunteers searched desperately for Laura.

VIDEO: ABC13 story from 1997 on Laura Smither:
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Gay Smither, holds the hand of Suzy Cain, whose daughter Jessica, disappeared

Just 17 days after the search began, Laura's body was found.

"It never occurred to us that a sexual predator would be out on the road," Smither said. "I was naive. I was absolutely naive."

The key suspect in Laura's disappearance and death: William Reece. He sometimes shoed horses at a ranch down the street from the Smither home. Gay Smither said he also drove a bulldozer, clearing trees for what would become a new subdivision nearby.

RELATED: William Reece indicted in murders of Jessica Cain and Laura Smither

"I was pretty certain it was him," she said. "But there's always that doubt, what if, what if, because until you have a trial you don't really know."

This spring, Reece led investigators to the remains of Kelli Cox and Jessica Cain and gave up enough information to be charged in Smither's case, too.

"I think that we were given the gift of mercy this year," Smither said. "And an answer to that prayer. And why we were given that gift and other families are still waiting for theirs, I don't have an answer to that, but I'm very grateful."

Families that are still waiting for answers motivate Smither to help. She travels to police academies across the country, training officers in how to handle missing persons cases.

"It's getting them in touch with their own humanity," Smither said. "That's the purpose of my part of the training, to let them see Laura as more than a case number, more than a statistic."

Reece is currently in Oklahoma, charged with capital murder in the case of Tiffany Johnston. He faces additional murder charges in Texas in the cases of Laura Smither and Jessica Cain. Reece could also be charged in the death of Kelli Cox, who went missing from Denton, Texas, in the '90s as well.

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missing personmissing childrenwilliam reece
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