PICHER, Okla. — Searchers returned to Picher Tuesday morning in the hunt for two missing Welch girls.
Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman disappeared 22 years ago. They were 16-years-old and best friends. They haven't been seen since Dec. 30, 1999. It is believed they were murdered shortly after disappearing. Investigators found the bodies of Ashley's parents in a fire the same time the girls disappeared. Over the years searches all over the area took place to find the girls or their remains.
Investigators believe three men, Ronnie Busick, Phillip Welch, and David Pennington killed Freeman's parents, set their home on fire, kidnapped the two girls, then later killed them. Busick, the last living suspect was arrested in 2018. A jury was set to move forward in the decades-old cold case in 2019 before proceedings began to determine whether the last-living suspect, Ronnie Busick, was competent enough to stand trial.
The 20 year anniversary of their disappearance saw new phases of investigation with developed information with help from the community and analyzing more than 400 mine shafts.
A team from the US Department of Interior joined an intensive two-day search by deploying cameras into several areas of interest early in 2020.
Busick eventually entered a guilty plea in the disappearance of two missing teen girls. He later admitted withholding information in the case and also plead guilty to one count of accessory to murder in the first degree. Busick also entered a plea agreement to help investigators find the girls' human remains, but previous search attempts did not bring anything forward.
A judge later sentenced Busick to 10 years with five years of probation. The judge also gave Busick credit for time served so the defendant will serve eight more years along with the five years of probation.
The family of Lauria Bible is still searching for answers, especially since the mother of the missing girl was battling stage 4 liver failure late last year. A Facebook post called out for help in finding a donor. Lorene Bible has since had the transplant and is now ready to find more information about the two missing two Welch girls once again.
The search for Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman still continues in 2021 as investigators are searching several different areas around Picher in hopes of one day bringing them home to their families.
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