Devin Brown-Boussetta disappeared from a hill overlooking downtown Pittsburgh.
Her short time in the city had been marked by loss; but, in the end, it is her family that has felt the loss most acutely.
“We were brought up to be watchful. She’s not the type to just hop in a stranger’s car. You’d really have to pull one over on her,” said her aunt, Wilshire Laycock. “It was either someone she knew, or she put up a fight.”
Brown-Boussetta was last seen Sept. 5, 2006, in her Mt. Washington apartment, located near Southern Avenue and Natchez Street. Her landlord had been in the residence to make a repair and found his tenant ironing clothes and eating Chinese food, with an article of delicate clothing soaking in the sink.
When the landlord later returned with police, the dwelling looked the same, Laycock said.
“It appeared as if maybe she planned on running out (for an errand) and coming right back,” she said.
Brown-Boussetta’s 1995 Chrysler Cirrus LX was found at a nearby gas station, and her family in Florida got a notice in the mail from the impound lot.
But what really concerned them was the fact that Brown-Boussetta missed her daughter Amiah’s birthday on Sept. 18.
“That was so out of character for her that we knew something was wrong,” Laycock said.
The family has spent the last 12 years wondering and waiting for new information.
“In all of our hearts, every time her daughter’s birthday comes around, we think, ‘Maybe she’ll show up. Maybe we’ll see her,’ ” Laycock said. “I just know that my niece would not let these things pass.”
Although they are aunt and niece, Laycock and Brown-Boussetta are only three years apart and grew up as best friends. Brown-Boussetta’s mother – Laycock’s older sister – died when Brown-Boussetta was 8.
“We were raised more like sisters because my mom pretty much raised her,” said Laycock, 41, of Winter Park, Fla.
Brown-Boussetta was 25 when she disappeared and would be 37 today. She was into fashion, hair styles and makeup, and worked a variety of clerical jobs. In 2005, she met Hamed Brahim Boussetta. Allegheny County records show they married on July 29, 2005.
The marriage bewildered family members, who barely knew Boussetta and didn’t attend the ceremony, Laycock said.
“The marriage was kind of a surprise to us,” she said. “It was just a weird situation.”
The couple settled in Pittsburgh but didn’t stay together long.
“It was not a successful marriage. We just had different personalities,” said Boussetta, 39, of Kissimmee, Fla.
After a few months, Boussetta moved back to Florida. He filed for a dissolution of the marriage in May 2006. Brown-Boussetta even filed a missing person report on her husband, Laycock said.
“I do know that they had gotten into a lot of heated arguments. She was not the type who was just going to – she was going to voice her opinion,” Laycock said.
The dissolution was finalized in October 2006 after Brown-Boussetta failed to appear for court dates, according to the Orange County, Fla., Clerk’s Office.
One thing that strained the marriage was a custody dispute between Brown-Boussetta and the father of her daughter – triggered by the fact that she had brought her daughter with her to Pittsburgh.
“That was stressing her out,” Boussetta said.
Court records show that Brown-Boussetta filed a petition for child support from the child’s biological father in January 2005. A final judgment was rendered in October 2006, about a month after Brown-Boussetta’s disappearance. It is unclear how the dispute was settled.
Laycock said the girl’s father prevailed in the custody dispute, traveling to Pittsburgh to collect the girl with a family member and a police officer.
Alone in Pittsburgh without her husband or daughter, Brown-Boussetta turned to a friend named India whom she met while working at the Pittsburgh office of ACORN, a now-defunct advocacy organization.
The friend, who contacted Laycock through Brown-Boussetta’s Facebook page, said the two would get together for lunch often and talk. The friend recalled that Brown-Boussetta once told her, “Maybe I should just disappear.”
The feeling may have been understandable, especially after Brown-Boussetta lost her ACORN job.
“She lost her daughter, lost her job, so she was going through a rough time,” Laycock said.
Boussetta said he was not aware of his ex-wife’s disappearance until Pittsburgh police contacted him two years later.
“Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen her. … I couldn’t help them because I didn’t know anything about her disappearance,” he said, noting that he assumed she had gotten back together with the father of her child. “Since we separated in Pittsburgh, we didn’t have any contact.”
Pittsburgh police interviewed Boussetta but never named him as a suspect. They also searched Brown-Boussetta’s car after it was towed from the gas station but found nothing to help their investigation, Laycock said.
There have been no developments in years, Laycock said. Once, when some human remains were found, Pittsburgh police obtained DNA samples from family members, but there was no match, she said.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.