ST. PETERSBURG - When the Spring 2011 class of cadets graduates from the St. Petersburg Police Academy on April 13, recruit Kelly L. Rothwell's name will be listed in the program. Next to her name will be the entry: "Not in attendance."
Director John Dressback is looking for other ways to honor the 35-year-old cadet, who mysteriously disappeared on March 12. Rothwell had never missed a day of class until she dropped out of sight.
Police have focused a lot of attention on Rothwell's live-in boyfriend, David Perry, who left their Indian Rocks condominium for New York State the weekend she went missing. Perry has refused to talk with authorities about Rothwell or provide a DNA sample.
While authorities have questioned whether Perry, a retired corrections officer, somehow had a hand in Rothwell's disappearance, her friends and family are working to keep her case in the public eye, hoping the publicity will yield clues to what happened.
Donna Scharrett, Rothwell's best friend, met with Dressback last week to discuss the disappearance and to bring to the academy orange rubber bracelets with the message: "Bring Kelly Rothwell Home."
Dressback passed them out to all the cadets, and each person slipped on an orange bracelet. He slipped one on his wrist as well. Scharrett said she already has given away 200 and has more on order.
Scharrett also is posting to the Facebook page, "Help Find Kelly Rothwell" and distributing posters that can be downloaded directly from a link there.
Scharrett has spoken to Dressback about the possibility of trying to open a fund through the Police Benevolent Association to help in the search for the Indian Rocks Beach woman.
Meanwhile, she spends her days making calls to media, police and friends, all in an effort to find Rothwell. The AP wire services have picked up the story and the London publication, The Daily Mail, ran the story in its online edition this week. “She’s out there and we need to bring her home,” Scharrett said.
Scharrett was the last person known to have seen Rothwell, when the two met for lunch at Chili's Restaurant on March 12. Rothwell planned to go home from the restaurant to break up with Perry.
“Kelly seemed almost upbeat, even serene at lunch,” Scharrett said. “She said it was like her life was starting over again. She loved the Police Academy and was looking forward to moving forward. She had a new-found strength about her… I think her confidence grew with the Academy training.
"And I think Dave realized that she was drifting away from him, that he was losing her... She had just had enough of all of it.”
When Rothwell failed to meet up with friends on Saturday night, Scharrett said that she knew something was wrong. She had a strong sense of dread, especially after receiving a text, supposedly from Kelly, that she had changed her plans. But the text didn’t ring true.
“The wording was very strange; some words were plural and it just didn’t sound like something she would say and also not the way she’d say it.”
An extremely worried Scharrett made a call to the Sheriff’s office Sunday morning, requesting a welfare check on Rothwell. When officers were finally able to get into the condo Rothwell and Perry shared, neither was there.
Rothwell’s car was found near the Holiday Inn, about two miles away, her gym bag from yoga class still in the back seat. Police learned that Perry had left for Elmira, NY.
Since her disappearance, Scharrett said she has tried to work steadily to keep Rothwell's name in the news. She hopes the publicity will help bring her friend home.
“Kelly loves the color orange so I wanted the bracelets orange. They are a reminder that she’s out there, somewhere and we need to find her.”