ST. PETERSBURG, Fla - Police Recruit Class #177 will graduate from the academy in St. Petersburg Wednesday night one cadet shy.
That reality is burning on the mind of cadet Bill Nobles as he studies in the classroom for his state exam. "She sits right there in front of me, so I've had to stare at a blank seat for the last couple of weeks," he said.
The empty seat fills Nobles' mind with questions about what happened to his fellow cadet and friend. Nobles said, "It's on your mind all the time. We just want her back here."
Recruit Kelly Rothwell of Indian Rocks Beach disappeared March 13th, along with her boyfriend. Investigators said the boyfriend was found in New York, but almost one month later, and they still have no idea where Rothwell is. Investigators say the boyfriend is not talking.
"We're holding out as much hope as we can," Nobles said. The entire class of cadets is holding out hope that Rothwell will come back in time to sign her own name to the class flag. Each cadet signed their name in advance of graduation. Rothwell often carried the class flag during training because she was class leader, which is a position cadets usually only hold for one week. "She was so good at it that she got to stick around for a few weeks. She was still class leader when she disappeared on us," Nobles said.
Nobles and the entire class are making sure Rothwell will be at graduation in spirit. They will present her family with a plaque, in part, displaying the class motto of PRC #177, "Can't stop, Won't stop." The plaque also thanks Rothwell for her dedication and insists the class will not stop looking for her.
PRC #177 will graduate at 6:00pm Wednesday, with a candlelight vigil to immediately follow.
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Last week, the I-Team was there when 99-year-old Willi Berchau was released from Florida's guardianship program after a three year court battle.