Linda Hiers hasn’t heard from her oldest son in 10 years.
Her gut tells her he’s dead. And though it pains the Hampton woman to say so, she believes he may be better off.
Daniel William Hiers Jr., a former Charleston police officer, disappeared the day he was scheduled to surrender to Dorchester County sheriff’s deputies on charges he sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl.
A search March 15, 2005, of Daniel Hiers’ Goose Creek home revealed the body of his wife, Ludimila.
The woman, a 24-year-old Brazilian native known as “Mila” to her friends and family, was shot in the back of her head at close range while she slept, Goose Creek police determined. Her husband was quickly named a suspect in her death.
After enduring a decade with no word from her now 42-year-old son, Linda Hiers didn’t hesitate when asked whether she still clings to hope that he’s alive.
“No. I hate to say that because that’s my child, but I don’t see how he can be,” she said.
The weight of prosecution, public scrutiny and a potentially lengthy prison sentence would be too much for her son or her family to bear, she said. It’s unlikely, she said, that he could have lived this long without leaving behind a paper trail.
“The way the media has portrayed this — put it out there that he’s a killer and a child molester — it’s probably better off that he isn’t alive,” she said.
His mother’s suspicions aside, Hiers remains among the top 15 fugitives wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service. He has charges pending with four different agencies, including two counts of committing a lewd act on a minor, first-degree criminal sexual conduct with a minor, murder and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.
A trail left by Hiers turned cold after authorities located his red 2005 Chevrolet Aveo in Texas, two miles from the Mexican border.
The U.S. Marshals Service is leading an investigation to locate the wanted man. Repeated showings of his face and story on “America’s Most Wanted” produced multiple alleged sightings in Michigan, Colorado, Toronto and other areas. But the tips failed to result in his capture.
“Every single time there are leads that are generated, U.S. Deputy Marshal Dennis Suszko said of the showings, but “more often than not, it ends up being look-alikes.”
Suszko cited Hiers’ career as a police officer as one reason why his alleged crimes landed him on the Service’s list of top 15 fugitives.
“Just the mere fact that he was a law enforcement officer that was accused and charged with such a horrible crime made this case stand out. It goes to show that being an officer didn’t elevate him above anyone else. He’s going to be held accountable,” Suszko said.
Asked whether he believes Hiers’ background has helped him elude capture, Suszko responded that he “would hate to say that it gave him an advantage, but I would go so far as to say that it made him aware of certain techniques and certain things to avoid.”
Suszko said he could not comment on specific leads or evidence that the Service is pursuing now but that the office is “following through as methodically as we would any other case.”
Those leads have investigators searching both in and outside of the United States. Suszko said he’s received conflicting information on Hiers’ grasp of other languages but that he’s believed to at least know some Portuguese — his wife’s native language — Spanish, as well as English.
When asked about a possible reason for the killing, Suszko said he wasn’t aware of any problems in the couple’s seven-year marriage.
Generally speaking, adults suspected of abusing children are more likely to engage in domestic violence against their spouses or partners, said Carole Swiecicki, executive director of the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children’s Center.
“We definitely know from research that different types of abuse happen together. Children who experience sexual abuse are more likely to witness some domestic violence or experience physical abuse as well. ... It’s not the case for 100 percent of them, but it’s definitely more likely,” she said.
Despite some lingering questions, Suszko said investigators have built a strong case against the man.
Hiers’ mother, however, disagreed.
“So much doesn’t add up,” she said, maintaining that she hasn’t seen enough evidence to convince her that her son is guilty.
“I’m not trying to take up for him because I don’t know what happened,” she said, “but it’s out of his character.”
The mother couldn’t come up with a reason why Hiers would want his wife dead.
They were young and in love, his mother insisted. If they were having problems, she said, there were no signs.
Ludimila Araujo was a skinny, shy 15-year-old Brazilian girl on vacation with friends in Miami when she met the 22-year-old man who would eventually become her husband.
In a 2005 interview with The Post and Courier, Mila’s sister Alassandra Cohe de Araujo said their father disapproved of the relationship because of the couple’s age difference.
“My father said no, my mother said no, my sister cried, cried,” Cohe de Araujo said then.
Mila grew depressed after being met with her father’s continued resistance, her sister said. Not knowing what else to do, their father eventually relented.
Cohe de Araujo lamented that her father “didn’t have the courage to tell (Mila) no” when Hiers proposed marriage. The couple wed when Mila was 17.
“It was a very beautiful love story for my sister. She died believing that story,” Cohe de Araujo said.
When allegations surfaced out of North Charleston in the fall of 2004 that Hiers had sexually assaulted a young girl he befriended in a karate class, Mila chose to stay by her husband’s side rather than return, as her father wanted, to Brazil.
The accusations cost the 11-year veteran officer his job with the Charleston Police Department. He took construction jobs and Mila worked in the shoe department of Sears at Northwoods Mall to help make ends meet.
Hiers was out of jail on bail in March of the following year when Dorchester County sheriff’s deputies filed additional sexual assault charges against him in connection with the same child.
“I know that he knew that little girl. He mentored her,” Linda Hiers said, questioning the validity of the molestation claim. “He told me that (the girl’s mother) had said that she had done this to someone else.”
The couple took a trip to Myrtle Beach the weekend before Hiers was supposed to surrender to authorities.
Linda Hiers had her last conversation with her son the following Monday — the day before Mila was killed.
Her son seemed happy, she said, and he gave no indication of what was to come.
Linda Hiers was in Charleston visiting with family the next day when she called Sears and asked to speak with Mila. She was told, however, that Mila never showed up for work.
Linda Hiers drove with a second daughter-in-law to the three-bedroom home on Severn Street in Goose Creek where Mila and Daniel lived. The door was unlocked, she said, so she walked inside.
Her heart sunk as she approached a closed master-bedroom door. Overwhelmed by a bad feeling, she couldn’t bring herself to open it, she said. A neighbor she sought help from discovered Mila’s body.
Investigators believe the young woman died between 7 a.m. and noon. Neighbors told police they saw Hiers leave the home early that afternoon.
A lack of a motive in the killing spoke to her son’s innocence, Linda Hiers said. Even if Daniel Hiers intended to flee from his assault charges, “he wouldn’t have any reason to shoot Mila. He would get his clothes, get whatever he would need and he would leave,” she said.
She understood her son being named a person of interest in the case but faulted the investigation for failing to consider any other possible suspects.
She doesn’t ever expect to feel closure, she said. Even if her son does surface one day, Mila will still be gone.
“We loved her just as much as we loved our own child,” she said. “She was a very, very sweet girl. It’s been hell for my husband and I. It’s just a terrible situation. It’s been a nightmare and we haven’t woken up in 10 years.”
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.