ATLANTA – Derrick Todd Lee's (search) capture in Atlanta Tuesday evening came more than a year and a half after the first known victim in the Baton Rouge serial slayings, Gina Wilson Green (search), 41, was strangled to death in her home on Sept. 24, 2001.
It was also just days shy of the first anniversary of the death of the second and youngest victim, Charlotte Murray Pace (search).
"This is a night of great celebration," Joanne Olson, a friend of the Pace family, told Fox News from her home in Jackson, Miss. "We’re all terribly relieved."
Pace, also from Jackson, received her MBA from Louisiana State University at the age of 22 last year, the youngest graduate in her class. She had been preparing to start a job with Deloitte & Touche in Atlanta, Ga., when she was stabbed to death in her home May 31.
Olson, a friend of the Paces whose children attended school with "Murray," as she was most often known, described the last year as a terrible ordeal for the family and those close to them.
"The whole family is just wonderful people," Olson said. "For somebody [Pace's mother, Ann] who has given that much to the community and to have this happen — it’s just tragic."
Ann Pace and other victims' relatives participated in monthly rallies and vigils to keep community awareness up and media and police attention on the investigation. The team probing the murders, led by Baton Rouge Police Chief Pat Englade (search), was criticized for secrecy and even ineptitude by a community increasingly frightened with each new death.
"I'm very happy about his capture," Ed Piglia, brother of victim Pam Kinamore (search), told Fox News Wednesday, calling the suspect a "creep."
Piglia credited police for their "diligent" street work and state Attorney General Richard Ieyoub for making sure DNA was collected from Lee in the police investigation of the disappearance of Randi Mebruer, 28, who vanished from her home in April 1998, and the murder of Connie Warner, 41, whose body was found in September 1992.
Ed White displayed mixed feelings about the capture of the man suspected in the death of his 44-year-old sister-in-law Kinamore, who was a decorator and antiques store owner, and who was abducted and killed July 12.
"It's a great relief for the family ... but somewhat bittersweet because the questions continue to rage," he said. "One thing is for sure ... we need to re-evaluate the way we handle crimes, especially murders, and I think this case continues to highlight these deficiencies."
Ann Pace echoed the sentiment before Lee's arrest when she told Jackson television channel WAPT that more victims could have been saved had the police broadened their profile.
"Like with Malvo and Muhammad," Pace said, referring to the men suspected of terrorizing the Washington, D.C., area last fall with a series of sniper attacks that killed 13 people. "Because serial killers are typically white males, and that was the assumption," she said.
The Louisiana serial killings task force and the Beltway snipers investigation team had both originally believed the suspects they were chasing were white men. Lee and sniper suspects Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad are black.
Lee was captured after a 10-month DNA dragnet, in which cheek scrapings and swabbings were taken from more than 1,000 men. The task force investigating the killings issued warrants for his arrest and released a photo of him to the public Monday after finding Lee's DNA linked him to the deaths.
Police approached him in an Atlanta tire shop and asked for identification, which Lee produced without incident, police said. He was unarmed.
"We have taken a very dangerous person that is a serial murder suspect off the streets," Police Chief Pennington said.
The chief said Lee could be returned to Louisiana as early as Wednesday.
"It's a sense of great relief to know there won't be any more victims," David Yoder, father of victim Carrie Lynn Yoder (search), told Fox News on Wednesday. "We obviously wish he was apprehended long ago."
Lee is suspected of killing at least five southern Louisiana women since September 2001. The five known victims are Green, Pace, Kinamore, Trineisha Dene Colomb (search), 23, who was found beaten to death Nov. 24, and Yoder, 26, who was raped and killed after disappearing March 3.
Lee is also suspected in a sixth death more than a decade ago and the disappearance of another woman in a Baton Rouge, La., suburb. It was those two cases that led police to Lee.
Police in Zachary, La., a suburb of Baton Rouge, obtained a DNA sample from Lee — which linked him to the five slayings — in early May because they were investigating him for the 1998 disappearance of Randi Mebruer (search), who is believed to have been killed.
A sheriff who had passed on a tip about Lee to Zachary police shortly after Mebruer's disappearance said nothing had come of it, the Baton Rouge Advocate reported. The tip resurfaced last May during a casual lunch between the sheriff and an investigator from the state Attorney General's Office, the Advocate said.
"We've been saying that this guy's been at it for a long time," Kinamore's brother-in-law White said of his frustrations with the serial killings investigation. "Something's wrong when the system takes eleven years and many murders later."
White said he would lobby for DNA testing for even petty criminals.
"We're going to let our voices be heard in the state legislature," he vowed. Lee had a record of arrests on charges of peeping into homes, stalking, burglary and criminal trespassing.
Asked by Fox News what he would like to see happen to Lee should he be found guilty, Piglia said: "I don't know at this point. I think long, multiple life sentences in prison and suffering from prison life every day."
But despite the relief felt following Lee's arrest, some of those still reeling from their loved ones' deaths at the hands of another may not feel a trial or new laws to be enough.
"He has messed up five families' lives forever," said Green's sister Sheree Bryant shortly after Lee's name was released Tuesday. "My closure will be when he's not breathing anymore."
Fox News' Jane Roh and the Associated Press contributed to this report.