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Dive team searches mine shaft for missing Welch girls

Posted at 4:46 PM, Nov 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-26 18:17:49-05

PICHER, Okla. — Investigators are continuing their search for two missing Welch girls.

Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman were abducted the night of Dec. 29, 1999. Freeman’s parents were found murdered and their home burned. Nearly 20 years later, both families are still looking for answers.

Now, investigators are turning their search to mining shafts near Picher.

The Tulsa Police Department's dive team spent a couple of hours searching a 100-year-old mine shaft Tuesday.

Lauria Bible’s mother, Lorene, watched as the dive team used a camera to search. After nearly 20 years of searching, Bible said she’s not giving up. But she’s also being cautious with her expectations.

“A lot of times you look and you look and you don’t find anything," she said. "It ends to no avail. So, you don’t put yourself on that rollercoaster. You just want to investigate and see what we find.”

Investigators are looking into this area after getting a recent tip from someone saying they saw two of the three suspects, Warren Phillip Welch II and David Pennington, here nearly 20 years ago. The dive team lowered the camera about 175 feet to the bottom of the shaft. They’re using the technology to look at all angles of the area and to see what is down there.

“You know, we can definitely make out, like, leaves," said Lt. Justin Farley with the TPD dive team. "At the very top of the pond, or the entrance to the mine shaft is fish. We can see the fish. So, our camera is very good at seeing that, but it’s very difficult out here to see what it’s actually seeing.”

Tuesday’s search will determine whether the team is able to put more equipment down there.

"These are too dangerous to put a diver down into," said Tommy Barber, dive team leader. "There’s no stability and bank. And if you have any debris or anything else that will come down to.”

As the search continues, Bible tries to stay hopeful.

“What’s it going to take, you know? For someone to pick up that phone and call and say, ‘Okay, after almost 20 years,' you know, they can remain anonymous and just tell it and be done," she said.

The dive team said they have put a camera down another mine shaft in the area. They’re hoping to get even more expert equipment to help with the search.

68-year-old Ronnie Busick was arrested and charged last year for the murder of Bible, Freeman and Freeman's parents. Next month, jurors will decide if he is competent to stand trial.

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