The Camp Fire burned nearly 3,000 square miles in Butte County, California, last year. The fire claimed the lives of 86 people and left nearly 1,000 homeless.
The crime took place in Butte County, north of Sacramento. At about the same time as the Camp Fire, another significant wildfire was burning through Los Angeles, killing 17 people. On September 8, 9-year-old Olive Silveria Alvarado was killed when the Camp Fire reached the edge of where she lived, and she was killed by its heat. Her brother and his 2-year-old cousin were also killed.
Her death resonated in Butte County, which has about 172,000 people living in more than 3,000 structures. Officials used DNA to identify Olive’s body.
Yet that wasn’t enough to solve the case.
The evidence collected from Olive’s body, physical evidence and the car the girl was in appeared promising, according to Siskiyou County District Attorney Peter Hum, but no one was arrested for Olive’s murder.
A key flaw of the case was it never addressed whether Olive was abducted. After Olive was murdered, her father called Olive’s grandfather to tell him the girl was gone. According to a police report from Butte County Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Estrada, no one is sure if Olive’s father was told that she was going to sell her toys to buy her father money.
Since the death, several locals commented on social media and the Butte County Sheriff’s Department contacted Gage Petroleum, which used to operate the Mobil Service Station in Gridley, California. Gage Petroleum has since switched its name to Gage Hardware and Electric.
Gage’s General Manager Steven Hobart says that they had a TAC logo in the station, which stands for Terminated Employee While Serving. Olive was a TAC, and so was the man seen on the video, which shows Olive working the cash register. Hobart thinks Olive’s grandfather had called the station to pick up her toys. After the call, it appears Olive left the station.
Through an employee, Olive’s grandfather confirmed Olive and her boyfriend, Pedro Reyes, were working at the gas station at approximately 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 7, three hours before the start of the Camp Fire.
Using gas station surveillance video, detectives found Olive’s vehicle in Gridley, California, on September 7. She was not seen in the morning, but there were signs the fire and ash from burning trees had gone into the storage room, which was still near the service station, while she was working.
Detectives then located Olive’s grandfather, who confirmed Olive was at the gas station in the morning. He says Olive never called to ask where she was or where the gas station was located.
After Olive’s family said she was going to sell toys to buy gas, her grandfather called her father to tell him.
The discovery of Olive’s remains led the Sheriff’s Department to look for missing persons who worked at the Gage Station at that time. Because Olive didn’t seem like she was in any distress, detectives went back to the Mobil Service Station and saw that Olive’s truck was still there in the parking lot.
At a news conference on Friday, detectives said the video showed Olive going to a family member’s home across the street. Olive’s grandson told CNN affiliate KRCR that her mother stopped by before she disappeared, but Olive wasn’t at the house.
The DNA matched the DNA collected from Olive’s body. Detectives believe the marks on her hand from the fire helped the DNA match, along with the car she was in.
The investigators have heard some people assume Olive’s grandfather was the killer, but with more information, he is not the primary suspect.
“He did not harm Olive, he did not murder Olive,” Hum said. “If someone hurt Olive and murdered her, he would know about it.”
According to the sheriff’s office, there were also problems with the California’s DNA database because the error was self-reported, not accidental.
Anyone with information that could help the investigation can call the Butte County Sheriff’s Office.