SHE does not normally wear necklaces or rings, but among Ms Colleen Turzynski's most prized possessions are two gold rings and a necklace with a panda pendant.
They are the most tangible links she has to Ms Lee Kui Yin, her Singaporean mother, who was tragically murdered in the United States in 1990. Ms Lee was wearing them when she was slain.
After more than two decades living in Poland with her paternal uncle, Ms Turzynski recently returned to the US to search for the family she never knew, especially her Singaporean family.
"I know about my dad's family, but my mum's family, I don't know anything. I want contact," Ms Turzynski, 25, tells The Straits Times in sign language through an interpreter.
She, like her parents, is deaf.
At the interview in a friend's home in Washington, DC, she has a stack of old photos of her parents, identification documents and news clippings of the violent attack in 1990 that left her orphaned.
The case remains unsolved - but what was clear was the remarkable resourcefulness of the then 17-month-old Ms Turzynski.
Police investigating complaints of a foul smell from the Turzynskis' apartment found the toddler silently peering out from a little nest of clothes on the floor.
From the sight of an opened box of Cheerios cereal in the middle of the floor and a baby's bottle floating in the toilet bowl, they deduced that she had kept herself alive for a week eating whatever she could find and drinking out of the toilet. Around her lay the bodies of her family.
Her father Kazimierz Turzynski, 35, a press operator in a rubber company, was stabbed in the chest. Her mother, 39, a seamstress, was slumped in a corner of the bedroom with stab wounds on her chest and wounds on her arms from trying to defend herself.
Her grandfather Mieczyslaw Turzynski, 61, a mechanic, was stabbed in the heart and found in another bedroom down the hall.
"I remember being there and trying to pull at my mother and I remember that I was scared," says Ms Turzynski.
And while she tries her best to remain stoic when talking about the past, there are moments when she cannot help but cry.
She speaks of an initially unexplained fear in her childhood of any man with a "thin face and a moustache and dark skin". "When I would see them, I would hide," she says.
It is a description that matches Pakistani national Abdul Qudoos, a family friend, who Ms Turzynski believes is the culprit.
He was arrested after police found him with Mr Kazimierz Turzynski's camcorder, according to news reports. But prosecutors did not have a strong enough case to try him and he was deported to Pakistan after a year in jail.
Ms Turzynski, who has a master's in financial management and a bachelor's in social work, says she is not out to seek justice.
Instead her priority is to make up for lost time and find members of her Singapore family.
At first, she thought of contacting the Singapore embassy in Poland, but there wasn't one.
Recently, she contacted the Singapore consulate in New York but came up empty. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: "Unfortunately, our inquiries turned up no new information. We hope Ms Turzynski is successful in her efforts to trace her Singapore-based relatives."
Ms Turzynski says she took many jobs to see herself through school. She also saved money with the intention of returning to the US one day to trace her roots.
Ms Turzynski, who holds a Polish and an American passport, finally made the trip to the US last November. "I wanted to visit my father's and grandfather's graves in New Jersey," she says.
Since arriving, she has also re- united with people who knew her when she was a baby, including Ms Judy Harrison, 52, an executive at a non-profit association, who taught Ms Turzynski and her mother American Sign Language.
Says Ms Harrison: "Her mother talked about not feeling accepted because of her deafness and talked about wanting the best for her daughter. She was a very loving mother and loved Colleen a lot."
A vital clue to her Singaporean family popped up in the last few months. The State of New Jersey Department of Children and Families gave her the names of her maternal grandmother Lee Chit Young and maternal aunt Daisy Lee. She believes her mother had five brothers and one sister and she hopes that by getting her story out, someone will step forward with information.
A Straits Times article dated March 30, 1990, stated that Singapore police had confirmed Madam Lee Kui Yin's death and had informed her sister-in-law about it.
There is also a tantalising detail in her parents' death certificates. While her father is listed as married, on her mother's document, the coroner had checked "widowed".
She believes this is because her mother was married before, and that she may have a half-brother: "My grandmother said my mother often talked about a boy in Singapore."
While in America, Ms Turzynski is hoping to enrol in courses to improve her English, find a job and continue her search for her lost family.
She says she wants very much to visit Singapore, which she calls her "third home" - after America and Poland - in particular Toa Payoh and Woodlands where her mum is supposed to have lived.
"I want to see pictures of my mum growing up. I want to see where my mother's ashes are, I want to have them," she says.
And most of all, she wants to plug an emotional hole that remains.
"I felt connected, and then there was suffering and the feeling of a disconnect, I feel like I was tossed. I knew that my parents gave me love. And now I feel alone."