The family of a Charlottesville woman who Harrisonburg police investigators believe may be the victim of a serial killer, say they are working through the sorrow, shock and tragedy and focusing on helping the woman’s six children through the ordeal.
Tonita Lorice Smith, 39, known to friends and family as ‘Nita,’ was found dead Nov. 23 in a vacant lot off of Linda Lane near Country Club Road, in Harrisonburg. Police arrested Anthony Eugene Robinson of Washington D.C., that same day in connection with her death.
The body of Allene Elizabeth “Beth” Redmon, 54, of Harrisonburg, whom police believe Robinson also killed, was found near Smith. Police believe they were killed at different times, however.
Smith was reported missing by family on Nov. 19 and last seen on the evening of Nov. 14 in Charlottesville.
“The family is managing and struggling through the pain of loss during this difficult time. They are trying to ensure a sense of normalcy for Tonita’s children as they are gripped with the reality of living without their mother,” an organizer of a GoFundMe account dedicated to paying for funeral expenses and assisting Smith’s six children, said in an email.
“As it is an ongoing investigation, in order to maintain the integrity of the investigation, the family doesn’t have a comment on it at this time,” the organizer wrote.
Smith is the aunt of Sage Smith, a transgender woman who went missing nine years ago on Nov. 20 and who has yet to be found. The Charlottesville Police Department continues to look for Erik McFadden, whom they’ve labeled as a person of interest in Sage Smith’s disappearance.
Police have also labeled McFadden as a missing person. Police interviewed him shortly after Sage Smith’s disappearance in 2012 but have been unable to locate him since.
Police officially declared the case a homicide investigation in 2016, citing its suspicious nature and how much time had passed with no sign of Smith.
“A day before Thanksgiving, we had to face the devastating news that our sister and friend, Nita, was taken from us in a senseless, unspeakable tragedy,” family members and family friends wrote on the GoFundMe page, titled “Help Support the Family of Tonita Smith.”
“We are heartbroken, and trying to find ways to process this as the pain hits extra hard as it happens during the same time of year when we are reminded that our beloved, Sage Smith, disappeared not to return as of nine years ago,” they wrote.
“After burying their aunt, 10 days ago, this family has to deal with immeasurable pain. Six young children lost their mother in the height of the holiday season, and it will be unimaginable to deliver this news and bear the brunt of financial obligations among other things,” family said on the crowdfunding page.
As of Sunday, the page had generated almost $6,000 toward the $7,500 goal.
“We are asking for your support to assist with funeral expenses and beyond with consideration for things associated with care and contingency plans for the six children Nita leaves behind,” friends and family wrote. “This support will go directly to Nita’s family and we will ensure they receive every outpouring of support during this brutal time of year for this family. We appreciate every gesture of love that has been received thus far, and hope that you will continue to support this family in any way that you can.”
Robinson, who is charged with killing Tonita Smith and Redmon, is also a suspect in two other murders in and around Northern Virginia and the Washington, D.C. metro area. He has been dubbed the ‘shopping cart killer’ because carts were used to transport victims to other locations.
He is currently in custody at the Rockingham County Jail on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of concealing dead bodies. Other charges in connection two more bodies are expected to follow.
“There may be other victims in this case and we are asking anyone with additional information to come forward," said Fairfax County Police Department Maj. Ed O’Carroll in a press conference last week.
Robinson, police said, met victims online and would then meet them in person. Police said information from cell phones and other digital records left by the women helped lead them to Robinson.
Police said Robinson has no prior criminal record but that investigators are “painstakingly going through his whereabouts, his relationships, his employment history” to find other potential victims.
Robinson’s next court appearance is Dec. 27.