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New law could help solve case of 4 teens killed in Austin yogurt shop 31 years ago

The four girls were found dead inside an I Can't Believe It's Yogurt shop in North Austin in 1991. The case hasn't been solved but a new law might help.

AUSTIN, Texas — It's been 31 years since a crime that shocked the Austin community. Four young girls were murdered in an I Can't Believe It's Yogurt shop in North Austin.

The building — burned. The crime is still unsolved to this day.

But last week, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., passed a bill that was written with this case in mind. On Wednesday, Aug. 3, the bill was signed into law. It's called the "Homicide Victims' Families' Rights Act” and it could help solve this case and other cold cases nationwide.

It was Dec. 6, 1991, when a gruesome discovery was made inside a North Austin yogurt shop. Four young girls: 17-year-old Eliza Thomas, 17-year-old Jennifer Harbison, 15-year-old Sarah Harbison and 13-year-old Amy Ayers were all found shot to death in the shop after it'd been burned.

RELATED: 30 years ago, 4 teen girls were killed at an Austin yogurt shop. The case has left more questions than answers

Investigators were stunned. Police launched a years-long investigation to find the killer or killers. Officials tracked down thousands of leads with no luck.

In 1999, four men were charged, but eventually, all their cases fell apart.

Now, the crime has sparked legislation in D.C. Austin Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX 10) and Congressman Eric Swalwell (D-CA 15) wrote the "Homicide Victims' Families' Rights Act.”

"I haven't given hope up on the yogurt shop case,” McCaul said.

Three years after a case has gone cold, the law allows loved ones to have a victim's federal case file reviewed. A full reinvestigation will use the latest technology to hopefully dig up new leads.

   

"It's so important to the victims’ families to have that right, if you will, the assurance that they can reopen their loved one's case for additional review and investigation,” McCaul said.

It's a new tool for families to get answers.

KVUE spoke with Amy Ayes’ family last year, 30 years after the girls were killed.

“This should have been solved 30 years ago. It's maddening to me that we are still having to do this,” Angie Ayers said.

Her brother said they're not giving up hope that this case will be solved.

"It's 30 more years of not giving up, 30 years of trying. If it takes 30 more years, it takes 30 more years...we are not giving up. There will be a resolution to this one way or another,” Shawn Ayers said.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) released the following statement after President Joe Biden signed the "Homicide Victims’ Families’ Rights Act" into law.

“This legislation will help ensure federal law enforcement reviews sometimes decades-old cold case files and applies the latest technologies and investigative standards,” said Sen. Cornyn. “This process will help bring grieving families resolution in the midst of tragic circumstances, and I am proud of the bipartisan support for this bill which is now law.” 

Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and John Kennedy (R-LA) also cosponsored the legislation.

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