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Gerald Walter Hicker

The family of a Brigham Young University student slain 33 years ago said Friday they feel relieved now that charges finally have been filed in the case.

"She was very loved, and her family never forgot," said Laurie Piazza, Barbara Rocky's niece, who was 6 years old when Rocky was shot five times and her nude body was left in Big Cottonwood Canyon in March 1974.

Rocky's body was found two miles up the canyon, about 300 yards off the road hidden in oak brush. She had been shot several times in the back, according to investigators in 1974.

This week, the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office announced that detective Todd Parks, a cold case specialist, was able to find previously undiscovered DNA evidence and link it to Gerald Hicker, Rocky's boyfriend at BYU. Hicker was arrested this week at his home in Tacoma, Wash., and was awaiting extradition from the Pierce County (Wash.) Jail back to Utah.

Investigators always had considered Hicker a person of interest in the case but never had enough evidence to link him to the crime. Piazza said her grandmother and Rocky's mother, Olga Rocky, also had suspected Hicker in the murder.

Hicker reported Barbara Rocky missing to BYU security the day before her body was found. He claimed a note was left in his car written by Barbara Rocky saying she had decided to leave with some new friends. Hicker later told an acquaintance that Barbara Rocky was shot five times, a detail that police had not yet released.

Hicker also had helped Barbara Rocky purchase an Astra .357 caliber six-shot revolver. He had instructed her to always keep just five bullets in the chamber, according to investigators. According to an article from the Deseret News on March 15, 1974, detectives believed back then that Barbara Rocky was shot with her own gun. As of Friday, neither the gun nor Barbara Rocky's purse had been recovered.

Investigators said Barbara Rocky was sexually assaulted before she was killed and reportedly went into the canyon with someone she knew, according to the 1974 News article.

Barbara Rocky was from Menlo Park, Calif. Many of her relatives still live in California today.

Piazza said the news of the arrest came as both a surprise and relief. The family is happy about the news, but it also has brought back some difficult memories, she said.

Olga Rocky recalls her husband, Gene, frequently leaving their home to visit their daughter's grave.

"Why would somebody kill my Barbara?" Gene Rocky would ask.

Gene Rocky died of a brain tumor a year after his daughter's death, a condition that Olga Rocky attributes to his grief.

In a statement released Friday by a family friend, Olga Rocky, 81, said she wished her husband were still alive to "realize that there is justice in the world."

"If it wasn't for Salt Lake County Sheriff's Department's unfailing efforts and perseverance, this case would have remained cold forever," she said.

Olga Rocky, of Palo Alto, Calif., has thought about her daughter's death every day for the past 33 years, Piazza said. She was first informed that the case was being looked at again earlier this year, she said.

According to an Associated Press report, Olga Rocky said "hurray" when she got news of the arrest "and then I felt bad."

"I feel badly for his mother. Crazy," she told NBC11, a San Francisco TV station.

Piazza said the children were sheltered from news of the homicide when it happened, so she didn't remember much about those days. What she does remember is how Barbara would take the time to read to all her nieces and nephews.

"She just adored kids and animals," Piazza said.

Piazza said family members plan on traveling to Utah to attend as many of Hicker's court hearings as they can.

Olga Rocky said she plans to attend Hicker's hearings in Salt Lake City.

"I need to be there ... for Gene," she said.

E-mail: preavy@desnews.com