Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 18, 2011

'Ballad of Nicole Penix Vanzant'

Music video seeks justice in unsolved murder

Tim Preston
The Independent

MOREHEAD — More than a year after her skeletal remains were found in the Red River Gorge, songwriter Fred Brown Jr. said he couldn’t forget the unsolved murder of Nicole Penix Vanzant or shake the feeling that someone, somewhere knows what happened to her.

The song he wrote in her memory, which details the young woman’s disappearance, is now the foundation for a music video featuring local musician Sasha Colette and aimed at an Internet audience in hopes of helping to solve the cold-case crime.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if this would jar loose some information?’ It occurred to me that those most likely to know something would also be most likely to listen to a music video as read a newspaper,” Brown said Tuesday morning from his home in Mount Sterling.

Since it debuted at the Rowan County Arts Center in Morehead last weekend, the video for “Ballad of Nicole Penix Vanzant” has registered more than 1,100 views on youtube.com.

“I did not know Nicole or her family before she disappeared,” Brown said, explaining he first followed the woman’s story as a missing-person case, and feared the situation would end badly as the search went from days, to weeks, to months.

A year later, he pondered writing a song about Vanzant on the anniversary of her last contact with friends and family members, and wrote the first rendition of the ballad. Hesitant to contact members of her family, Brown got in touch with the detective handling the case and asked him to review the song’s lyrics for factual content and ask if he thought her family would be receptive to his idea.

The detective checked the facts and contacted the murder victim’s parent, who reviewed the song and added further detail to the story.

When he was satisfied with the song, Brown contacted Sasha Colette and asked if she would put the words to music, and explained his hope to make a difference for Vanzant’s family. Colette, who was not familiar with the story, immediately identified with the young murder victim and her family and felt the ballad could actually make a difference, “especially around here where everybody knows everybody, so somebody knows something.”

Colette said the music video project, directed and shot by Scott Ginn, was completed in a single afternoon using several locations in the Morehead area that corresponded to the song’s content. The singer/songwriter said she did her best to convey the urgency of the song during the filming process.

“I put my heart into it ... put my soul into it,” she said, noting the importance of the song’s message.

“As an artist there are not that many situations where you can actually come into play ... to serve a purpose that’s more important. I think it’s cool to be able to say I’m doing whatever I can,” she said.

Colette said she was nearly overwhelmed with emotion when Vanzant’s mother attended the premiere of the music video during last weekend’s Fuse the Muse event at the Rowan County Arts Center. “She held it together real well. She started crying and hugged me after the video,” Colette said, noting she was barely able to contain her own emotions at the moment.

“She’s hurting because her daughter was murdered for something ridiculous and they can’t find the fool who did it,” she added. “When you’re hurting like that, there’s nothing that can really make it better. But it can soothe the mind to have justice.”

Recalling the grizzly details of the forensics evidence associated with the recovery of Vanzant’s remains, Brown said he is certain “anybody that would do that would probably do it again.”

“I don’t want this to get lost as a cold case,” Colette said. “Every case — especially murder — deserves justice.”

Those with information about the disappearance or murder of Vanzant are asked to call Kentucky State Police Detective Larry Bowling at (606) 784-4127.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.