HILTON HEAD, S.C. — Jenny Mercer would not have left the scene that November morning had she been the one who hit someone while driving, her mother said.
There's no doubt in her mother's mind that Mercer -- killed by a hit-and-run driver Nov. 3 on Hilton Head Island -- would not have left another soul to suffer alone.
Just two nights before she died, Mercer had been driving down Cordillo Parkway when a cat ran under her car. The 34-year-old spent the next three hours sweeping her flashlight over the road and into the brush, trying to find the cat.
Diana Mercer Imler cannot accept that someone else would not stop for her daughter.
"It's unconscionable," Imler, of Hilton Head Island, said. "It's like a dagger in my heart."
Nearly three months after Mercer was found on South Forest Beach Drive, no arrest has been made.
While Imler said she and her family want justice, what they need most is closure.
'A ZEST FOR LIFE'
It had been less than a year since Mercer moved from California back to Hilton Head, where she had grown up. She needed treatment for health complications due to mold exposure and Imler was happy to open her home to her daughter and her two cats.
Mercer's time on the island was something of a break after a series of adventures, Imler said.
She had studied in New Hampshire, immersed herself in the culture of Segovia, Spain, camped on the Appalachian Trail and spent a Colorado winter on a ranch, stoking a coal stove to heat her cabin.
"She had such a zest for life," Imler said. "In 34 years, she had a lot of adventures people wouldn't have if they lived to be 90."
The evening of Nov. 2 was meant to be another adventure.
Mercer planned to stay up through the next morning to see what she could of a total solar eclipse.
She left home about 7:45 p.m. and last texted her mother about 1:15 a.m.
Another driver found her about 2:45 a.m. on South Forest Beach Drive near Bayberry Lane.
Around 4:30 a.m., a deputy and coroner came to her mother's Wildwood Road home.
They asked her to sit down.
Imler said she couldn't stop shaking for two weeks.
'WE CANNOT ... HEAL'
On Friday afternoon, Imler rested her cigarette in an ashtray as she playfully shooed away Mercer's cats, a Maine Coon named Vinny and a wild-looking rescue named Samson.
Photos of her daughter are grouped around the home, but there are other less obvious reminders everywhere.
Imler recently opened a drawer in her bar to find a gem -- a piece of missing flatware Mercer mistakenly placed there months earlier.
"Aha, I found it, Jenny," Imler said to the empty room in a moment of quiet triumph. At least once a day, Imler visits the makeshift memorial along the road where her daughter died.
Her mind often turns to her daughter and settles on the good she would do for others.
On one visit to Laguna Beach, Calif., she noticed piles of blankets in Mercer's trunk -- supplies she planned to pass out to the city's homeless when the nights got cold.
She brought that attitude home to Hilton Head.
She wanted to work with local churches to open a shelter on the island, Imler said.
"People don't want to get involved today, but she just wasn't that type of person," Imler said. "You needed help, she would be there."
Those facts of Mercer's life have been an anchor when questions over her death threatened to overwhelm her mother.
There are no known witnesses or footage of the accident and the Highway Patrol investigation is ongoing.
Imler prays someone will come forward and give her and Mercer's brother, Todd, and father, Fred, the answers they need.
"We cannot begin the long process of trying to heal until we know how this happened."
Anyone with information can contact Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.