TAYLOR, Mich. (WXYZ) — Students in a criminal investigations class at Concordia University in Ann Arbor were assigned to dig into a cold case on who killed Chelsea Small five years ago.
Nov. 12, 2013 was supposed to be Small's day off, but it ended up being her last day on earth.
She had switched shifts with a co-worker and was working that day at Advance America in Taylor. The reason she had switched her shift was to be there for her son's fifth birthday, which happened a few days earlier. Unfortunately, around noon on the 12th, Small's life ended when a man walked into the business with a gun. She hit the panic button but the suspect shot her twice.
"With no closure, it really makes it difficult dealing with the emotions that arise every day," said Small's mother, Debi Kamin. "The anger, the depression – a lot of people in the family struggle with it."
Now, five years later, grainy video of Small's killer is still the one big clue that police have. They say his gun had a suppressor or silencer. Some money was stolen but police don't think robbery was the motive.
"He doesn't take the time to find out where the money's out," said DEt. Joshua Schneider. "It's right away to shooting her... it's like he went there with purpose of killing."
Schneider was a road officer when Small was murdered, now he's in charge of the case.
"We still receive calls, leads (and) information," Schneider said. "It's still a very active case."
One of those calls recently came from an unlikely place – Concord University Professor Frank Rubino who is a former cop himself.
"He said to me he had some info that would possibly pertain to the investigation," Schneider said.
It turns out, Rubino had assigned students in his criminal investigations class to a cold case.
"We'd look at, OK, what would you do if you were dispatched to the case," Rubino said. "(And) how do you go about figuring out the investigative process."
One of Rubino's students, Dakota Bostic, is a former Taylor Police Department intern. It was Bostic's idea for the class to look into Small's unsolved murder.
"I instantly knew from seeing it during the internship, just passing by the boxes of material they have, I was definitely going to bring it up in class," Bostic said.
The students spent the fall semester doing interviews with police and internet searches for crimes where suppressors were used, or where they were stolen. That's when they learned about a gun store robbery in Jackson, Michigan that happened six months before Small's murder.
"We found a gun store robbery that involved taking several suppressors and weapons," Bostic said."We found that one of the suppressors that was stolen from that incident is the same caliber as the gun used in the Chelsea Small murder."
They say they also saw physical similarities between the suspect in that robbery and Small's killer, saying that the suspect's build and body language was similar.
Professor Rubino presented their findings to Taylor police.
"It was not new to us," Schneider said. "That was brought to our attention within the first month of the investigation."
But Det. Schneider agrees with the students, saying that they need to figure out who this guy is and see if he has any connection to Small's murder.
"It gives us confidence as students we're asking similar questions and getting similar places as the pros are getting," Bostic said.
While their work didn't lead to a big break, it did give students a sense of purpose.
"Anytime anybody has stepped up to benefit our family, it's not taken lightly," said Debi Kamin, Small's mother. "We take it to heart. We're very much thankful."
There's a $52,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Chelsea Small's case. If you can help police, please give them a call.