Police announced Monday that the ex-fiancé of a missing Florida mother of three is now the “primary focus” of their investigation.
“We are officially naming Dale Smith, the ex-fiancé, as the primary suspect” in Michelle Parker’s disappearance, Orlando Police Chief Paul Rooney said at a press conference.
The announcement came two days after a SWAT team raided Smith’s father’s home to execute a search warrant. Several people were restrained outside the house with flex cuffs during the search, which police said was standard procedure.
Rooney would not comment Monday on whether any evidence was discovered at the father’s house, although police had told WESH earlier in the day that nothing significant was found. Rooney did not respond to questions about whether he believes Smith has lied to investigators, but he did say that Smith refused to take a polygraph test.
He said it took 11 days for police to name Smith as a suspect because it was their “investigative strategy” to look at every other aspect of the case first. Parker, 33, was reported missing on November 17 after she was last seen dropping their 3-year-old twins off at Smith’s home that afternoon.
Her disappearance came just hours after an episode of “The People’s Court” aired in which she and Smith argued over an engagement ring that was lost when she threw it from a hotel balcony. On the show, which was taped months earlier, Parker described Smith as mean and vindictive. The judge ultimately ordered her to pay Smith $2,500, half the value of the ring.
Parker had obtained a temporary restraining order against Smith in 2009, accusing him of breaking her car window during an argument and throwing car seats at her truck. The order was later dismissed and no charges were filed over the incident. Smith pleaded guilty to a battery charge in 1997 and was dishonorably discharged from the Marines in 2003 after he was found guilty by a general court martial on several charges including domestic battery, according to official records.
Rooney told reporters Monday that this is still a missing persons case and Smith is not a murder suspect at this point.
“We will not rest until Michelle is found,” he said.
Members of Parker’s family also spoke at Monday’s news conference.
Her mother, Yvonne Stewart, addressed Smith directly and pleaded for his cooperation. “Help us,” she said. “If you know something, let her be a mother to her children. Work with us…You loved her at one point. Try to love her again.”
Lauren Erickson, Parker’s sister, said, “You could have avoided this, Dale, if you cooperated with police…Unfortunately you brought this on yourself.”
Her brother emphasized that Monday’s announcement did not diminish the need for volunteers to assist with the search for Parker.
“The fact remains that she is still missing and I still need help to find her,” Dustin Erickson said.
Asked how he maintains hope that Parker is still alive, he said, “I have no reason to believe she’s dead.”
“If she’s not, then may God have mercy on the soul who did it,” Lauren Erickson added.