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Diana Alejandra Keel was a bright light not only to her coworkers, but to her patients as well.
“She just had a good spirit,” said Shelbie Hollingsworth, a nurse who worked with the 38-year-old in Wilson Medical Center’s emergency room. “She was always happy. She knew how to lift you up.”
Keel’s body was found Tuesday in rural Edgecombe County about 30 minutes from her Nash County home after her daughter reported her missing last Saturday. The missing person case turned into a homicide investigation Wednesday after an autopsy concluded foul play was involved.
Nash County Sheriff Keith Stone declined to tell reporters how the mother of two was killed, citing an ongoing investigation. Keel’s husband, Redford Lynn Keel, remains a person of interest in the case, Stone said during a Wednesday press conference. There are other persons of interests as well, he said.
The news of Keel’s death has been devastating for her coworkers, who have been overcome with emotion. They’ve banded together to support each other as they remember the good things about the emergency room nurse who was known as a caring person who loved to make people smile.
“She was just so warming,” said Alan Heath, a Wilson Medical Center emergency room paramedic who worked with Keel on the night shift. “You couldn’t help but smile. I can’t help but remember how courageous and compassionate she was for her patients.”
Heath’s wife made pink and blue ribbons Wednesday night for him to take to work Thursday so coworkers could honor Keel. Her coworkers said she was always wearing blue or pink scrubs.
“Diana was always someone you could count on when we were short-staffed,” Heath said. “She would always pick up the work.”
Heath said her patients were her top priority no matter what happened.
“If we were ever in need while caring for a patient, all we had to do was say so,” Heath said. She was also someone her coworkers looked forward to seeing and being around, they said.
Deputies were called to the couple’s 208 Old County Home Road home around 7:36 p.m. Saturday. The home, which has a Nashville address, is in the town of Momeyer. Keel’s husband told investigators he last saw her Friday when she left with friends, according to authorities. He also told investigators that his wife would leave from time to time and stay gone a couple of days.
The Nash County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies continue to work the case and spent the early part of the week conducting a wide search for the nurse, who also has a 10-year-old son. A state Department of Transportation worker who was not part of the search found Keel’s body around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday a few miles outside the town of Leggett between N.C. 97 and N.C. 33, according to officials.
Her body was about 30 to 40 feet off the highway and inside the woods, officials have said. Stone said Wednesday the area in which she was found was predominantly open fields and known as a farming community off a dead-end road.
Her husband has been cooperative with investigators, Stone said Wednesday.
‘NURSING WAS A REAL CALLING FOR HER’
Heath said Keel’s death was surreal.
“You hear about these things on the news all the time,” he said. “But it hit close to home.”
Hollingsworth agreed and said it’s been an emotional roller coaster for so many.
Keel’s supervisor, Meredith Sutton, Wilson Medical Center’s Emergency Medical Services director, said early Thursday afternoon she met with staff who primarily worked with Keel. Together, they wanted to convey to the community who Keel truly was as a person and as a nurse.
“She was a comforter,” Sutton said.
Keel also had the ability to walk into a situation that seemed chaotic in the beginning but could easily instill calm. One of the ways she was able to do just that was using her interpretation skills with the Hispanic population.
“Those situations can be scary enough when you don’t speak the language of everyone else around you,” Sutton said.
Her coworkers said Keel approached everything in her life with 100 percent effort, whether it was her work, her children or her church.
“She was just involved in so many things,” Sutton said. “She gave all those things her priority.”
Sutton said Keel was the definition of perseverance.
“She came here from another country, where English was not her primary language,” Sutton said, adding that she worked as a technician and certified nursing assistant at Wilson Medical Center and began working as a nurse in the emergency room there in 2017 after completing nursing school.
“Nursing was a real calling for her,” Sutton said. “She exemplified that in her practice every day. Diana was really a bright light. Everybody saw her that way. Her patients felt that way, too.”
Keel also left a mark on her patients.
“Patients would comment on what great care they got overnight with Diana,” Sutton said.
Patients who would have a repeat visit to the emergency room would often ask for her as well, she added.
‘WE ARE FAMILY’
Sutton said the staff, including Hollingsworth and Heath, wanted Keel’s family to know how much she was loved by her coworkers and patients.
“While we aren’t related to Diana by blood ... the staff really feel as though we are a family,” Sutton said. “This is a loss of a family member for all of us. It’s been very difficult for the staff to comprehend the sudden loss and tragedy around it.”
Heath said his wife plans to make more ribbons for his coworkers.
“I don’t think there was a better mother to her children or a better daughter to her mother,” he said, adding that he couldn’t remember a time she didn’t talk about her children and mother.
Heath said he already made a promise to himself.
When he enters those emergency room doors every day for work, he will honor Keel and remember her by continuing to provide compassion to his patients as she did for hers.
Anyone with information related to Keel’s disappearance and killing is asked to call the Nash County Sheriff’s Office at 252-459-4121 or Twin County Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111.
Investigators say they’re also interested in any video of N.C. 97, Battleboro-Leggett Road, N.C. 33 or U.S. 64 in Edgecombe County from March 8-12, explaining that it may assist in the investigation.