The Palo Alto Police Department is counting on the power of social media to provide the spark needed to solve a 13½-year-old cold case homicide.
On Friday, authorities released a video calling for anyone with information about the killing of Maria Ann Hsiao, 21, of San Leandro, to come forward. Hsiao was shot once in the head while standing outside the now-defunct Q-Café, located at 529 Alma St., just after midnight on June 10, 2001.
“No one has forgotten this case and no one has forgotten Maria,” Lt. Zach Perron says in the video, which was shown during a press conference at City Hall. “And that’s why we want to do everything we can to try and find out the truth about what happened that night.”
The police department posted the video to its website,www.cityofpaloalto.org/police, as well as on its various social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Perron said he is hopeful it will reach someone with the information needed to crack the case.
“Even if this video doesn’t reach the actual person that has that direct knowledge, this video may reach somebody who has second-hand or third-hand information about what happened,” Perron said at the press conference.
“Somebody may have said something to somebody else. We’re hoping that this video solicits that person or those people to come forward and give us that critical piece of information that might be that missing piece for us to get a break in this case and bring justice to Maria and her family and her friends.”
The video will also be shown regularly in the coming days on Comcast channel 27 and AT&T U-Verse channel 99, according to police.
Hsiao’s family requested privacy, but her sister and father appeared on camera to appeal for the public’s help.
“It’s highly unlikely that no one saw anything that night,” Andrea Hsiao says in the video. “I’m sure someone saw something.”
A $100,000 reward is still being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Maria Hsiao’s killer, Perron said at the press conference.
“But more than that monetary reward, there’s the reward for my family, for me, and for our friends who lost Maria,” Andrea Hsiao says in the video. “The peace that that would bring to me would be priceless, worth all the money in the world to me. It would help me to heal, so that I can move on.”
Maria Hsiao was studying at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco to be a digital special effects designer and “had her whole life in front of her,” Perron says in the video. She didn’t have any enemies and was simply celebrating her birthday with Andrea and a handful of friends at Q-Café, a popular nightclub and restaurant, when she was gunned down.
“She didn’t do anything wrong,” Perron said. “That, I think, is the really touching part to this case. This could have happened to anyone’s daughter. This could have been anyone’s sister or anyone’s friend.”
The events of that night remain fresh in Perron’s mind. He was the second officer to arrive at the scene and helped provide CPR. Pink lapel ribbons were passed out at Maria Hsiao’s service and he still keeps his in his locker.
“I still have that ribbon, and I look at that ribbon every time I put my uniform on,” Perron says in the video.
“For me personally, I feel like I have a very close bond to Maria. I was there when she passed away and I wasn’t able to do anything to save her. That has left a big hole in my heart to be quite honest. You can go on thousands of calls in your career but there are a certain number of calls that you’re always going to remember every detail … and this certainly was one of those calls.”
The case continues to stump investigators, Perron said at the press conference. Police know the shot was fired in close proximity to Hsiao but never recovered the firearm or developed a motive.
“In the day of social media,” he said, “we think that this is a great time to try something new.”
Anonymous tips can be emailed to email@example.com, sent via text message or voice mail to 650-383-8984, or submitted through the Palo Alto Police Department’s free mobile app, which can be downloaded at bit.ly/PAPD-AppStore or bit.ly/PAPD-GooglePlay. Tipsters may also call the detective bureau during business hours at 650-329-2597.