With a sunny disposition and the ability to see good in just about anyone, Kelly Rothwell easily makes friends and works hard to keep them.
That's precisely why those closest to the missing 35-year-old St. Petersburg police cadet are so worried about Rothwell since she vanished March 12.
No one has seen a trace of the Indian Rocks Beach resident, after she met with a friend at Chili's Grille & Bar in Clearwater for lunch.
Friends and family increasingly express worry that Rothwell, who's the subject of an intense police search, may have unknowingly put herself in a vulnerable situation because of her trust and faith in others.
“She found the good in everyone she ever came across. She’s always been that way,” said Erin Smith Hansel, Rothwell's friend since childhood.
"She was just so funny and friendly to everyone. She was the sweetest friend. I just love her!” added Marie Vasquez, another Rothwell friend since childhood.
Jamie Campbell also knew Rothwell from growing up in Maryland. “She wouldn’t hurt a fly, literally," Campbell said. "And I never heard her yell or get mad. She’s just a really calm, beautiful person, inside and out.”
These are the descriptions that emerge of Rothwell, who has drawn national media attention since her sudden disappearance. Investigators from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said last week that the case is suspicious. Detectives have searched Rothwell's vehicle, which was found a couple miles from her condominium.
Investigators increasingly have focused their efforts on trying to speak with David Perry, Rothwell's live-in boyfriend, who left for New York, at just about the time Rothwell disappeared. He refuses to meet with investigators to discuss her whereabouts.
Perry refused Sunday to submit a DNA sample for investigation or talk with them, when he was back in Florida briefly before returning to New York.
David Robert Perry, Perry's adult son, told Patch in a Facebook message, " I just lost the two most important people in my life, I feel like my heart has stopped and will never work again. I just want Kelly back and for her to tell me everything's going to be all right."
Detectives recently blocked the younger Perry from removing a cardboard box containing contents from the condominium that his father shared with Rothwell. Detectives took the box from Perry Jr., as he tried to leave the building.
Meanwhile, Rothwell's friends struggle to understand what happened to her. Both Campbell and Hansel said they lost touch with Rothwell after she started dating Perry.
Growing up in the Baltimore suburb of Overlea, Rothwell was the all-American girl, with blond hair and natural good looks.
"We would sit and listen to CDs in Kelly’s basement bedroom,” said Vasquez, who lived two doors down from Kelly growing up.
"We would go on vacations together; my French teacher took nine students to Paris and the Riviera, and I asked if Kelly could go with me. We traveled for 10 days and we had a blast!”
Hansel is another Rothwell friend, close to her growing up in Maryland. “Kelly always wore hippie clothes,” Smith recalled. “She loved tie-dyed stuff, loose, flowy shirts and bell bottoms, even when they weren’t in fashion. She never tried to be someone she wasn’t."
She recalled a time when the girls went sailing on Chesapeake Bay. The boom swung around and almost hit Hansel in the head. “I fell down and when I looked up, Kelly was just convulsed in tears, laughing her head off! She couldn’t breathe, she laughed so hard. Just thinking of that time makes me smile now.”
The two lost touch when Rothwell moved to Colorado in the early 1990s. Hansel finally found Rothwell on MySpace and the two resumed their friendship.
"Then when she moved to Florida or was moving to Florida. I told her how jealous I was. We were laughing...and then her MySpace disappeared.”
Rothwell later her told Hansel that her boyfriend, Perry, did not like her having a MySpace page, so she got rid of it.
Her best friend in Florida, Donna Scharrett, speaks of Rothwell's spiritual side. She and Donna connected when they attended spiritual awakening groups.
“Kelly and I just clicked. We were on a path to find the better, of ourselves and of our world.” It was Scharrett who alerted authorities to check on Rothwell on March 13.
“That day at lunch at Chili’s (on March 12) Kelly told me that she and Dave were having some serious issues and that she was going to tell him that she needed some space… that she was going to break it off with him.
"She said she felt a new sense of power and strength and that the Police Academy training had given her a greater sense of worth," Scharrett said.
Scharrett offered to follow her back to the condominium after lunch, but Rothwell assured her friend that she would be fine.
Rothwell said, " 'Don't worry about me,' " Scharrett recalled.
"So I left...I had to honor my friend’s wishes. I felt bad about leaving, but it was what she wanted. I never saw her or spoke to her again.”