Family wants answers after 25-year-old single mother killed in San Francisco 21 years ago

A Bay Area family hopes a new reward and advances in DNA technology will help solve the homicide of a 25-year-old single mother.     

Relatives said they've waited more than two decades for answers and justice. 

"My sister was so funny, so down to earth," Kerri Walker said on Monday. 

She and Katie Villanueva are the younger sisters of Paula Brien whose homicide has been a cold case with San Francisco police for 21 years. 

"I feel like it just happened yesterday," Walker said. " It's just something that's always on my mind every day." 

Walker said the loss is a void that cannot be filled. She and Villanueva said Brien was the best sister they could ask for.

"She was the most protective older sister. Always made sure I had someone walk me home from school every day," said Villanueva.

Police said Brien was last seen around midnight on June 18, 2001, in front of a bar that's no longer there at the corner of 6th and Mission streets. Investigators said she got into a red sedan with a man with light colored hair, around 6 feet tall with a muscular build.  They said he had an East Coast accent and a tattoo on his right arm.  

"There were a couple of people they detained and talked to that fit the description but never panned out," said Dan Cunningham, an investigator with San Francisco Police Department's Homicide Cold Case Unit.    

Cunningham said less than two hours later, her body was discovered nearby on Harriet Street by a truck driver making a delivery.

"The victim had significant injuries on her. We know she was in the company of others some hours before she was discovered," said investigator Daniel Dedet who's working alongside Cunningham on this case.  

Police are now offering a new reward of $100,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person responsible.  

Investigators said with advances in DNA technology, they plan to retest some items along with new evidence. .

Brien's family shared this video her on the beach, a favorite pastime with her family.  Now, those trips are bittersweet memories. Her sisters said Brien had struggled with mental health issues and left behind two young daughters.

"We imagine our lives with her in it.  To snap back into reality that she's not here, it's hard," said Villanueva.  

"It ruined our family.  Just changed it, never been the same," said Walker.  

On the night Brien was found dead in the alleyway, investigators said there were people in the area.  

They included homeless folks who live on that street and people who parked their cars there to go to nearby clubs and bars. Police hope someone with information will come forward.

Amber Lee is a reporter with KTVU. Email Amber at or text/leave message at 510-599-3922. Follow her on facebook @AmberKTVU,  instagram @AmberKTVU  or twitter @AmberKTVU