Police announced a major break in the 1997 disappearance of 8-year-old Kirsten Hatfield.
A Midwest City man was arrested in connection with her kidnapping and suspected death.
Anthony Palma, 56, who lived just two doors away, was linked to the case after his DNA matched blood evidence from the scene.
Police said an officer was assigned to follow up on the cold case in June. They decided to re-submit some of the evidence and found Palma was the match.
“We have worked this case continuously for 18 years,” Midwest City police Chief Brandon Clabes said. “We’re emotionally invested in this case and wanted to bring it to a logical conclusion.”
Investigators made that match after collecting samples from men who were brought up in the investigation or had been in Hatfield's house that year. Palma agreed to a DNA sample and is now behind bars.
“I’ve always felt like if Kirsten would have been here I would have adopted her, too,” said Chris Hazen, who is now married to Kirsten’s mother. “So I consider her my daughter, too.”
That's probably how a lot of Oklahomans feel, adopting the smiling little face on so many missing child posters over the years. It’s a face that's heartbreakingly familiar.
“Our family is hopeful, but we are very tired, and we wanted to take this opportunity to let all of our family and friends know that we’re OK, and please continue to pray for us,” he said.
Palma is in custody at the Midwest City Police Department. Detectives just recently revisited the case and a made a match.
“Some evidence had not been submitted for analysis which included cigarette butts, a syringe, a beer bottle and what we know from the original analysis of the blood that was found in Kirsten Hatfield’s panties and also blood that was found on the window sill outside her bedroom window, is that there were specific genetic profiles that were similar in nature,” Clabes said.
While investigators piece together evidence from the past, News 9 is learning more about Palma now.
He is a groundskeeper for the state Department of Tourism and has been living in Midwest City with his wife and has children.
He also served prison time for assaulting a woman back in the '80s. He's seen in a news article planting a tree at the state Capitol. All the while, the search for little Kirsten was underway; a cold case until now.
“This has just been a terrible nightmare to my wife ever since it happened,” Hazen said.
Palma is being held without bond. He is yet to be formally charged.