December 30, 2019 | By Vincent Dalessio
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Christin Cassels had a smile full of life and a contagious personality. Her family was her pride and joy, and she always loved spending time with them. She had recently graduated college after studying to be a medical assistant. Christin was dedicated to her work.
On April 21, 2017, Christin and her boyfriend arrived at their central Florida home after spending the day at the beach. Christin needed to grab her scrubs for work, but as she stepped out of the car, several individuals approached. They were attempting to rob the house.
Christin was shot in the back. Her 24th birthday was just five days away.
Officials say the boyfriend ran outside and fired shots back at the group. The case has never been solved, and her family has felt the loss every single day for the past two years.
“She may have only been 23 years old, but that child was the centerpiece of our family, and now our chain has been broken,” says her mother, Brenda Cassels.
Christin and her mother shared an incredibly close relationship. They would often visit the beach together, even though the coast was far from where they lived in Hawthorne, a small central Florida town.
Some of Brenda’s favorite memories with her daughter revolved around the holiday season. Every year they waited until the day after Thanksgiving to go Christmas shopping together, looking for Black Friday deals. Brenda can’t bring herself to do those activities without her daughter by her side.
The time since Christin’s death has been extremely difficult for her family. Christin grew up in Hawthorne, where she lived with two sisters and a brother. She loved her siblings dearly, as well as her cousins, nieces, and nephews. Christin’s sister, Britney, was one of her best friends and continues to struggle to cope without her loyal sister.
Christin’s father, Randy, is heartbroken without his daughter around. “I can sit there at night sometimes and just hear my husband cry,” says Brenda. “It just breaks my heart.”
Hawthorne, Florida, with a population of less than 1,500 people, is known for its slow, rural lifestyle centered around agriculture. Because Hawthorne is such a small town, word of the shooting spread very quickly.
The morning after the murder, people bombarded Brenda with information like the number of people involved and genders of the suspects. She knows that with how easily information spreads in Hawthorne, someone must know what happened. She wishes the citizens of Hawthorne would cooperate with police and share information.
Although Brenda believes that a good detective has been assigned to the case, she thinks law enforcement could be doing more to figure out what happened to her daughter. Her frustrations stem from the belief that law enforcement isn’t proactive enough in reaching out. Brenda often initiates conversation with the detective for any available updates.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Christin Cassels, please call the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at (352)955-1818.
Research and Impact
Anniversaries and other important dates can impact surviving family members. These families left to push forward after the tragic loss of a loved one often deal with feelings of revictimization and trauma around the holidays and other times once designation for celebration.
The need to find an outlet that offers aid in addressing grief and trauma is vitally important, as academic studies concluse that survivors are prone to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnoses.
PTSD has been defined as to trigger “in response to an unexpected, irreversible, and traumatic event,” leading to stress and depression. Further studies reveal a link between survivors and overall mental and physical health due to the emotional shock of the incidents.
Surviving families of cold case homicide can be stalled by their grief. For those in a supporting-role, be mindful of the impact that PTSD can have overall. Fractured relationships and avoidance to support systems are not uncommon in the post-homicide period. Holidays, birthdays, and other significant dates can cause extreme discomfort for a survivor, leading to destruction of valued and comforting support systems. Ensure delicate recognition during any period or date that can be painful to a survivor navigating a life without their loved one.
For families local to the Jacksonville, Florida, area, Project: Cold Case offers a monthly grief support meeting for families and those in supportive roles to address the unique grief and impact of homicide.
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If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide, please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.