June 29, 1980 is the one night Dlana Bodmer has tried to forget. But she can’t.
The summer night was the last time she spoke with her sister, Gina Hall, a fellow Radford University student. Hall borrowed her sister’s car and headed out to a Blacksburg nightspot to dance – something she loved to do. She never returned to the Radford apartment the sisters shared.
Her last words, “Sis, follow your heart not your head,” has stayed with Bodmer, but she says it wasn’t until a spiritual experience in 2016 that she finally realize what those words were telling her.
“I learned to forgive…..to forgive the man responsible for her death and to remember that my sister is now in her final resting place in heaven,” Bodmer said.
Over a hundred people gathered Saturday night, 39 years to the day, in Radford’s Bisset Park to remember Gina’s life for a “candlelight dance.”
Stephen Epperly, a Radford man, was the last person to be seen with Gina who had met him at the Marriot in Blacksburg after a night of dancing. While her body has never been found, he was convicted of Gina’s murder and is currently serving life in prison. He has never spoken about the incident or where Gina’s remains can be found.
Epperly told authorities Gina had taken him home that night and drove away. Her abandoned car was found near a railroad trestle on Hazel Hollow Road, just across from Bisset Park where Saturday’s event was held.
Forensic evidence pointed to her being killed at a Claytor Lake residence, while a dog tracked the suspect from Hazel Hollow Road across the trestle to his mother’s home.
Bodmer admits that over the years her sister has been forgotten, and in some case, even “dehumanized.”
According to Bodmer, this was the reason for Saturday’s event.
“She was a daughter, sister and friend. She had a zest for life and loved to dance,” Bodmer told onlookers.
“We can be sad tonight, but we’re not and won’t be. Instead I want to celebrate my sister’s life, and I want everyone in attendance, to leave with her spirit and joy for life,” she said.
Bodmer spent the summer of 1980 looking for her sister to no avail.
“While I would love to bring her body home, I believe she is home in heaven and I’m at peace with that. I had never come back to this ground in Radford until recently,” she said.
Other speakers at the “celebration of life” included Norma Jean Peters Crowder, a childhood friend of Gina’s from Coeburn, Virginia, Austin Hall, a state police investigator in the original case, Ron Peterson, the author of the book “Under the Trestle” that has brought new attention to Gina’s story, and J.C. Covey, a Radford native who has written a song as a tribute to Gina.
“I was inspired by the story to write the book,” Peterson said.
Crowder met Gina when they were both seven years old. From there, they spent a lot of time together.
“Gina forged her own path among other girls her age, and we were best of friends,” she said.
Hall said he got to know Gina through others and regrets he and other members of law enforcement were never able to bring her home.
“I hope at event like this, people will come forward with something that might help find her,” he said.
Hall said a recent tip led divers to check an area of the New River. Nothing was found.
At the close of Saturday evening’s event, the crowd carried battery-operated candles to a heart shaped area where they laid their candles down in memory of Gina. Several of those people had never met the RU student, but felt inspired to attend the event. They also danced in a circle, something Gina loved to do.
Bodmer has just finished writing a book called: “The Miraculous Journey, a Day Made in Heaven,” which takes a different look at her sister’s life.
“I wanted to tell more about my sister’s life, how I dealt with her death and the light that God has shown me,” she said.