A mother whose 16-year-old daughter was murdered along with her best friend during a sleepover recounts her relentless search for their missing remains more than 20 years later.
Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman were celebrating the latter’s 16th birthday when they went missing from the Freemans’ mobile home in Welch, Oklahoma sometime during the night of December 29 or the early morning hours of December 30, 1999.
Ashley’s parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, were found shot to death in the rubble of their burned-out trailer. Their house was set on fire that morning to cover up the murders. The teenage girls are believed to be dead, but their bodies have never been found.
“It was Ashley’s birthday and she wanted Lauria to come to her house,” Lauria’s mother, Lorene, 61, said. People. “You’d never think anything would happen.”
Mystery: Ashley Freeman (L) and Lauria Bible (R), both 16, went missing in December 1999 from Freemans’ mobile home in Welch, Oklahoma.
Grieving mother: Lauria’s mother Lorene (pictured) has been searching for her daughter’s body for 20 years
The grieving mother has spent the past two decades searching tirelessly for answers about the whereabouts of her daughter and best friend.
Over the years, the case has been profiled on a number of national TV shows, including America’s Most Wanted, Unsolved Mysteries, and Vanished: With Beth Holloway.
[Former America’s Most Wanted host] John Walsh told me at the very beginning of this that I had to decide whether to hide in the closet or be Lauria’s voice, and I decided I would be Lauria’s voice,” Lorene said.
“And ever since I made that choice, it’s kept me going.”
The first major break in the case came in December 2017, when Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey found a cache of notes from interviews related to the missing girls as he moved into his new office, leading to the arrest of Ronnie Dean Busick. .
According to a probable cause statement, all witnesses claimed that Busick and two other men – Warren Phillip Welch II and David Pennington – had bragged about the murders and threatened to kill anyone who turned them into police.
Murder: The Freemans trailer was set on fire while Lauria (L) had a sleepover with Ashley (R). Ashley’s parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, were found shot to death in the rubble
Convicted: Ronnie Busick, now 69, pleaded guilty in August 2020 to complicity in murder in connection with the December 1999 murders
Alleged accomplices: Warren Welch, 61, (L) and David Pennington, 56, (R) also allegedly involved in the murders, but both have since died
A female witness, identified in the affidavit by the initials TW, told police she lived with Welch after the murders and claimed she heard the three men talk about how the victims owed money.
She stated that the men had kidnapped the girls and later killed them. She also claimed that Welch had a briefcase containing the girls’ Polaroids tied up and gagged with duct tape and lying on a bed.
The affidavit included another statement from a witness who claimed the teens were held for “a matter of days” before being “raped and forcibly strangled to die.”
Investigators alleged that Welch, Pennington and Busick shot and killed Ashley’s parents on drug debt before kidnapping the girls and setting the Freemans home on fire.
Welch died in 2007 and Pennington died in 2015.
False lead: Last year, Busick told the Bible family that “there is a 75 percent chance that the girls’ remains are in the root cellar on Ethel Drive in the Tar Creek area of Ottawa County.”
Disappointing: Lorene and her cousin Lisa Bible Brodrick are pictured as the dig site last August. The search turned up nothing, but the mother continues to hope that she will find her daughter
Busick, now 69, was charged with the crimes in 2018. He pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of complicity in murder in the 2020 deaths of Danny and Kathy, their daughter Ashley and her friend Lauria.
He was sentenced to 15 years, 10 of which were in Oklahoma Department of Corrections custody and the other five under supervision of release.
Busick, who has denied involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Lauria and Ashley, could cut his term in half if he he provides information leading to the salvaged bodies.
Last summer, he told the Bible family that “there is a 75 percent chance that the girls’ remains are in the root cellar on Ethel Drive in the Tar Creek area of Ottawa County.” Tulsa World reported, but the excavation of the site turned up nothing.
“Even though nothing came out that day, it’s clear to everyone: ‘Hey, we’re still looking for these two girls,’ said Lorene, who was at the dig site.
Committed: Lorene said early on that she decided to be ‘Lauria’s voice’ and that’s what has kept her going for the past two decades
Plea: In September, Lisa urged people on Facebook to provide information, revealing that her Aunt Lorene is in stage 4 liver failure
“And people will Facebook our page and tell us things they remember from 20 years ago: ‘Maybe you should check this out.’ Or: “My parents used to be in the drug business and these are the people they were around.”‘
In September, family member Lisa Bible Brodrick urged people: facebook to come forward with information, revealing that her Aunt Lorene is in stage 4 liver failure.
“Time is certainly more essential now than ever. We are so desperate for the girls. I am writing this today with more tears than usual,” she wrote. “We have had to rely on God all these years and we will continue to do so. Will you keep helping us? We need your prayers more than ever for Lorene’s health! We have to take the girls home! Our family needs strength!
“If you know of anything that could help us get to the girls’ bodies, we’re desperate for that information,” she added. “Don’t be selfish anymore. Please give Lorene this rest so she can fight for her health. Give us this information so we can focus on her health instead of looking for the girls.
Lorene has not let any of the false clues or disappointments of the past stop her from her search for her daughter’s body.
“You’re just waiting for that one time when you get the right text, or the right conversation, that will lead us to where the girls are,” she told People. “We’re fighting for Lauria. But we know that if we find Lauria, we will find Ashley. So we’ll take both girls home.’