A fire in the middle of the night shows no mercy. An alarm echoes from the flames as firefighters battle to save Kelcey Fike.
It appears to be a tragic accident. Until out of the smoldering ashes rises a cold-blooded mystery.
Anyone who ever met Kelcey Fike couldn't help but love her. Dad Randy Fike says you could always find his daughter in a crowd by her infectious laugh and a distinct goldfish tattoo on her back.
The petite 21-year-old was excited about a new job, and her mom Mary Jo says Kelcey had finally met the love of her life.
"She fell very quickly for Alex," said Mary Jo. "Tall, very nice-looking. Good manners."
Alex Young was a reservist with the Nebraska National Guard. After a little less than a year of dating, Alex gave Kelcey a diamond promise ring, and vowed to take care of her. To save money for a house, they temporarily moved into a mobile home together.
"It was an older trailer and it very much looked like an older '70s trailer, but it was what they could afford," said Mary Jo.
It's hidden off the main drag of Kearney, Nebraska -- not an affluent part of town, but for this young couple in love it was their first little piece of paradise together.
June 16, 2008 was like any normal day for Kelcey Fike: She worked, came home around 5:30 p.m., and according to a neighbor, took her basset hound "Dante" for a walk around 9 that night.
The only thing out of the ordinary that day was that Alex was out of town. Kelcey sent her boyfriend a text message around at 1 a.m.
Kelcey often stayed with her parents when Alex was away, but this time she was busy packing for an upcoming trip to see her best friend Jami Graham.
Just a few hours later, at around 4:30 a.m., her mobile home erupts in a hellish ball of fire. Tragically, Kelcey was inside.
Kearney Police crime scene investigator Doug McCarty says the flames were so intense that neighbors were forced to stay back.
"The rear of the trailer, the back bedroom, as we found out later, was on fire. It was fully engulfed, smoke was coming from it," said McCarty.
Sadly, by the time firefighters put out the flames, it's too late to save Kelcey. Her lifeless body was found on the floor near the back bedroom.
"At first we thought that it was an accident and she tried to get out and had succumbed to the fire," said Doug McCarty. "Her basset hound was found in the living room of the trailer, and he was deceased."
The nightmare begins for Kelcey's mom and dad with an early-morning door knock from a police officer and a chaplain.
"I opened the door and they said 'Do you have a daughter named Kelcey Fike? I said 'Yeah,' and they asked if she had a tattoo of a goldfish on her back, and she did," said Randy Fike.
"He said 'We have a problem," said Mary Jo. "They said there had been a fire at Kelcey's home and that she did not survive.
"That it was a fire and that she just was not able to get out of the trailer," said Mary Jo.
They suddenly remembered something Alex had told them about the mobile home when Kelcey first moved in, and now it haunts them.
"It was an older mobile home and Alex had said something about a faulty furnace, and that was my first thought, that the furnace had caught on fire," said Randy. "But, not the case."
That's not the case at all. After taking a closer look at Kelcey's burned body, cops realize this isn't a death by fire -- it's murder.
Right from the start, Kearney Police crime scene investigator Doug McCarty smells trouble.
"Both the front door and the back door were unlocked when we arrived," said McCarty.
Inside the burned-out trailer, investigators found Kelcey's body on the floor just outside of the master bedroom.
"She wasn't very badly burned," said McCarty. "She had some slight fire damage."
So investigators assumed Kelcey died of smoke inhalation -- until they got a closer look.
"She had bruising throughout her upper torso, her arms, her nose had been broken, her cheek, lip had been hit, and then she had blunt-force trauma to the head," said McCarty. "Then she had been manually strangled, and then a ligature had been used too. The assailant struck her and then strangled her with his hands, or her hands, and then used a ligature to finish the homicide."
Cops now say Kelcey Fike was murdered, and the mobile home torched to cover it up.
"There was not an accelerant used," said McCarty. "Kelsey was dead before the fire was set."
Doug McCarty says they begin with the obvious person: Kelcey's boyfriend Alex Young.
"We knew within probably an hour that he was gone and he was in maneuvers in Louisiana, so we had ruled him out pretty quickly," said McCarty.
"We just never found anybody that disliked Kelcey. She was liked by all of her friends, and even the exes liked her," said McCarty.
Catching Kelcey's killer was proving to be more complicated than a typical homicide because of the fire damage.
"A lot of our evidence was either washed away or burned up," said McCarty.
So Kearney Police go back to old-fashioned police legwork, beginning with the obscure location of the mobile home. Kelcey's lived in a trailer park tucked behind business, which was really hard to find unless you knew where she lived. Cops also found it curious that the front door was unlocked.
But the biggest clue may surround her beloved basset hound, Dante. Neighbors never heard him bark that night.
"The dog was very possessive, he was very protective," said McCarty. "He would bark at anybody that came up near the house, and he was a basset hound, so people knew when he was barking. And nobody heard him barking that night. It seems odd to us."
With that, cops now wonder if Kelcey's killer was a friend of hers.
"Her boyfriend was gone, it's a very secluded area, she was very careful about who she let in the house. The dog didn't bark, so I think it's probably somebody that she knew," said McCarty.
"I lean towards 'targeted' because she was very attractive," said Randy Fike. "She worked at the mall and a lot of people came through there. Some weird person, perverted person could have targeted her."
But who? Finally police catch a much-needed break.
"We have surveillance video from across the street that shows a car leaving the trailer court," said Doug McCarty. "We've never identified the car, we've never identified somebody leaving from there, so we think it probably was."
Two different angles are both time-stamped 4:39 a.m., approximately 10 minutes before the fire was reported.
"We're pretty sure it's a sedan. More than likely it's dark in color," said McCarty.
The problem is the video is too far away to get a license-plate number or the make of the car.
Cops still need more, and they get it. The coroner finds strange DNA on Kelcey's body.
"We think that maybe they tried to sexually assault her and she fought, she put up a fight, and that they weren't able to accomplish what they were there for," said McCarty.
What about the DNA? When firefighters used their high-pressure hoses to knock down the flames, the force of the water blended Kelcey's DNA with her possible killer's DNA.
Investigator McCarty sent the samples to one of the most sophisticated crime labs in the country, hoping to find out who was in Kelcey's mobile home that terrible night.
"We really want closure for the family," said Doug McCarty.
For now it's a painful waiting game.
"I wake up every morning with the knowledge that my beautiful 21-year-old daughter was very brutally murdered," said Mary Jo Fike. "That's not going to change."
Until science can help solve Kelcey Fike's murder mystery, her family hopes someone will come forward, because they know somewhere out there a killer is still on the loose.
"This case needs to be solved, not for Kelcey, but for any future potential victims of this individual, so that the next person doesn't go through the pain and the terror that my Kelcey did," said Mary Jo.
There is a $30,000 reward for any information leading to the capture and conviction of a suspect in Kelcey Fike's death.