It was the seeming randomness of Samantha Olson's death that shocked people when they turned on the news or picked up a paper the morning after she was killed: A mother with her child in the car, traveling through one of the busiest intersections in North Little Rock. A few shots, reportedly from a pickup truck heading down McCain Boulevard in the opposite direction. And, just like that, a young woman's life was ended and a family was changed forever.
Even a cursory interest in the stories behind murders in any city in America shows just how rare the truly random homicide really is. It's almost always personal: an argument taken too far, a drug deal gone bad, a fight in a club that progressed beyond fists. But who would kill Samantha Olson, 31, wife, friend of everyone, mother, lover of life? And who, especially, would kill her in such a way? If someone did have a reason to target Olson, who could or would have planned to do it there, in that way? Two cars, meeting for a half-second in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in town, broad daylight, surrounded by witnesses, on a road five lanes wide? Nobody would, of course, which points to the even more frightening possibility: that there just was no motive, other than that the shooter saw an opportunity to kill one person in the countless thousands he saw that day, and took it.
It's what makes the case hard to solve, and even harder to understand for those Samantha Olson left behind. With anything else, there are dots to connect, suppositions to be chased to bedrock fact, or — almost as important — dead ends, which allow investigators to rule out and rule out until all that's left is the truth. Not here, though. Here, there's just a blurry video of a maroon pickup that seems to have disappeared like a bad dream after gliding through the frame of a surveillance camera on Camp Robinson Road six months ago. Here, just a widower husband who will have to go on without the woman he still calls the love of his life. Here, just a mother and father who will grow old without their daughter. Here, just a little girl who will grow up never having known her mother.
While police and Olson's family still hope the truck will turn up, or that time will loosen the killer's tongue, the fire under the case is six months old now, and flickering low. They pray something will happen, sooner or later. But for now, they're all still at the mercy of the random.
It's hard to imagine a worse place to kill someone than the intersection of JFK and McCain boulevards. It was just after 7 p.m. on Aug. 14, 2013. Being late summertime, the sun wouldn't set for nearly an hour. Though it was a Wednesday, a run of mild temperatures and beautiful weather that week had drawn people out from under the air conditioning. By the time Samantha Olson topped the hill heading east on McCain toward JFK, only a few blocks from the home she shared with her family on West M Street, heading into the last moment of her life, the intersection was surely full of cars, five lanes east and west, five lanes north and south.
Nobody really knows where Olson was going that evening, with her 11-month-old daughter, Linnea, strapped into a rear-facing car seat in the back of Olson's dark blue 2012 Mazda 3 hatchback. Her mother, Phyllis Lyles-Vontungeln, suggests she might have been headed to get a birthday present for a child's party she and Linnea were supposed to attend in her hometown of Pine Bluff that weekend. But the truth is, we'll probably never know.