Family and friends of Nanette Krentel, many of them classmates from Archbishop Chapelle High School's Class of 1985, gathered Saturday at her gravesite in Lacombe to remember her life and to urge one another to keep pressing for answers about who ended it one year earlier.
Krentel's body was discovered in the burned wreckage of the home she shared with her husband, Steve, on July 14, 2017, dead from a gunshot wound to the head in a killing that remains unsolved, just as the cause of the fire remains a mystery.
The friends placed flowers on the bare gravesite in the Krentel family plot in tiny Peace Grove Cemetery.
Bonnie Poirier eulogized their friend as a woman with soulful eyes and a contagious laugh, remembering her zest for life and her love for animals and the children she had taught years ago in preschool.
"We will find out the truth," Poirier said, urging officials to bring closure to them and to the community.
But answers about the 49-year-old woman's death remain as elusive as closure for those who mourn her loss.
St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Randy Smith issued a statement Friday saying his office "remains committed to working and solving this case."
Detectives have investigated the case aggressively "since day one," the sheriff said, adding that the agency continues to work closely with the State Fire Marshal's Office and the FBI "to ensure every lead has been vetted and all resources have been used" to solve the case.
There has been no official determination of the cause or origin of the fire from the Fire Marshal's Office. That office has said the fire was intentionally set but has not classified it as an arson.
A spokeswoman said the office has shared all its materials and findings with all agencies involved in the case.
In the year since Krentel's badly burned body was found, the Sheriff's Office has executed more than 20 search warrants, and detectives have interviewed more than 30 people and reviewed surveillance videos from multiple location, Smith said.
But Krentel's survivors disagree on how committed the Sheriff's Office is to finding her killer.
"It’s a real feeling of utter helplessness: We can't bring justice to Nanette," said Dan Watson, her 75-year-old father, who lives in Iowa. "There's no suspect, there's no leads. There isn't anything after all this time."
Can't see video below? Click here.
Watson, who arrived in St. Tammany Parish the Monday following the fire, said he does not believe the crime scene was adequately secured. "I think good evidence was left to get contaminated or not collected," he said.
Watson and his other children hired a pathologist to do an autopsy of her remains — the third that was done.
He said he doesn't believe that the sheriff is actively investigating the death. "Even if I had a hot tip, I wouldn’t know who to give it to," Watson said.
The victim's husband, Steve Krentel, is also dismayed that the case remains unsolved, but he is adamant the authorities are committed to finding out what happened.
The Sheriff's Office has assigned a detective, Daniel Buckner, to the case full-time, and Steve Krentel commended the agency for doing that.
"I would have never believed it would be a year later without somebody being arrested," he said. "But I do have complete faith in the agencies that are handling her case. There are definitely times when I get frustrated with the lack of progress ... (but) after I communicate with them, I leave with a feeling that they are still investigating every possible angle and every new lead, no matter what the source is."
The agency recently issued a warrant for 4,000 pages of documents from St. Tammany Fire Protection District No. 12, which investigated complaints lodged against Steve Krentel, including accusations that he had affairs with co-workers.
Krentel, who recently announced his retirement after being demoted from his position as fire chief, said he viewed the warrant as a sign that the case was still active, and he welcomed it.
"I can’t allow myself to believe that (a solution) is never going to happen," he said.
The Sheriff's Office has revealed limited information about Nanette Krentel's final day. She drove to Northshore Boulevard in Slidell that morning in her bright red Mercedes SUV, returning home just after 9 a.m., according to video evidence. She was alone in the vehicle and was not followed, the Sheriff's Office has said. But the agency has not revealed her exact destination.
A 911 call reporting the fire was made at 2:30 p.m.
Krentel's body was found in the bathroom/bedroom area, and the gunshot wound was likely to the side of the head, the Sheriff's Office has said, although the entrance wound could not be found. Firearms were found near her body, and at least one cannot be ruled out as the weapon used to kill her.
The bodies of her two cats and dog also were in the house.
As for suspects, Sheriff's Office spokesman Capt. Scott Lee said that investigators "have not ruled anyone (in) as a suspect in this case."
In a news conference two months after Nanette Krentel's death, Smith announced that Steve Krentel had been cleared as a suspect.
Family members say Nanette was afraid of her her brother-in-law Bryan Krentel, who had been released from prison and had made threatening statements to the couple. "She was scared to death, afraid for life," her father said, adding that she carried a gun and had bought a 20-gauge shotgun for home security, practicing regularly.
Her cousin Gina Watson said the family was troubled to learn that an ankle monitoring bracelet that Bryan Krentel wore had not been set up to monitor his movements but only to detect alcohol use.
The Sheriff's Office spokesman confirmed that but said the brother-in-law's whereabouts have been confirmed by investigators via video surveillance footage prior to and after initial reports of the fire.
One thing all her friends and family agree on is that Nanette Krentel did not end her own life. Her father said she was always "up and bubbly," with lots of friends and never made suicidal statements.
Her husband also said he cannot believe she would have ended her life. He believes the killer will be found when "some lowlife getting arrested for something like drugs or robbery" comes forward with information. He thinks the killer will turn out to be a stranger.
"It’s a complicated case, but the police have tools none of us have. They can track cellphones, every email and communication with everybody, not just one party," Steve Krentel said.
He said he planned to mark the anniversary by visiting the site of their former home, where he had believed that they would live out their lives together.
"She was the rock that held everything together," he said. "It's been very hard, and it still is."