'I just want to know why’: Mother pleads for answers in 1999 shooting death of Hanover teen

Teen's murder unsolved 20 years later

HANOVER, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia State Police are still following leads in the murder of a Mechanicsville teen who was shot and killed while driving along Interstate 64 in New Kent County in 1999.

Aug. 8 will mark 20 years since Sara Bruehl, 18, and her two friends were shot at while driving around 9:10 p.m. along I-64 near Exit 205 for Bottoms Bridge.

“We just want to make sure that they know they haven't been forgotten, to not lose hope and she hasn't,” said VSP Sgt. Keeli Hill.

Bruehl was shot and killed prior to the car crashing. Her 18-year-old front seat passenger was also shot but survived her injuries, and her 17-year-old backseat passenger survived her injuries from the crash.

All three of them were recent graduates of Atlee High School.

“Twenty years of not knowing who did it and if they’ve been punished,” said Chris McIlwee, Sara’s mother.

Bruehl was driving back from Virginia Beach on Sunday, Aug. 8, 1999 with two girlfriends. Police said a man in a small, red car engaged in a “cat and mouse game” of speeding up, slowing down, and changing lanes for a roughly 20-mile stretch on I-64 westbound.

Then, the stranger did the unthinkable near the Bottoms Bridge exit.

"[Sara] was in the left lane, he pulled up on the right side of the car, opened his window and fired into the car," McIlwee said.

Police said four shots were fired into the Nissan Bruehl had rented. Bruehl was hit twice in the head, the front seat passenger struck in the leg. Sara died before her car ran off the road and crashed into the tree injuring the third teen in the car. Meanwhile, the suspect took off on I-64.

“I’d like to know why he decided to pick on Sara’s car and what it was that made him pick her out,” McIlwee said. “It wasn’t someone she knew, it appeared to be random as much as I can tell. I just want to know why he did it and if he regrets it."

Based on eyewitness descriptions, police created a sketch in 1999 of the man they believe was driving the suspect vehicle described as a small red car, with tinted windows and halogen lights.

1999 sketch of the man VSP believe shot and killed Sara Bruehl. Police describe him as a light-skinned African-American or Hispanic man, with dark eyes and a goatee. (Source: VSP)
1999 sketch of the man VSP believe shot and killed Sara Bruehl. Police describe him as a light-skinned African-American or Hispanic man, with dark eyes and a goatee. (Source: VSP) (Source: VSP)

“We know somebody has information out there,” Hill said. “We know that there’s valuable information they have and we ask them to give us a call and help us bring peace to this family.”

Police describe the suspect as a light-skinned African-American or Hispanic man, with dark eyes and a goatee.

“We are actively working and pursuing this case,” Hill added. “We owe it to the family, we owe it to Sara."

Thursday McIlwee placed flowers on her grave, as she has done for every birthday and anniversary since her daughter’s death.

“I come out and do the flowers myself,” she said.

On the 20th anniversary of Bruehl’s death, McIlwee can only imagine what her daughter’s life would be like if she was alive today.

“I think she would have had a family,” she added. “Her dream was to have a floral design shop.”

According to McIlwee, Bruehl was two weeks away from college to become certified in floral design before she was killed.

"My bottom dropped out when [the officer] said she had been shot,” McIlwee said. “That was just unreal to me that that could happen."

While McIlwee said she'll never get closure, she's constantly reminded of her daughter and the things she loved.

“I try to make [the flowers] as nice as I can and I know that she’s watching over me and helping me out and no matter what it looks like I know she loves it,” she added.

McIlwee has vowed to never give up looking for the gunman. She hopes a Facebook page she created for Sara will lead to a tip.

“It’s just difficult to know that he’s probably still out there,” McIlwee said.

Anyone with information related to this case is encouraged to contact the Virginia State Police at #77 on a cell phone or 1-800-552-9965 or by email to questions@vsp.virginia.gov.

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