Attractive, thirty-four-year-old Oregon City Police Detective Viola Valenzuela-Garcia catches the assignment. Following procedure, her first move at 9:30 am takes her to Gardiner Middle School where the missing child attended the seventh grade. Garcia’s plan is to individually seek out Ashley’s friends and acquaintances since she prefers the informality of one-on-one interviews. In the school counselor’s office, she conducts her first interview with thirteen-year-old Miranda Gaddis, Ashley’s neighbor and classmate. After brief small-talk, Garcia gets right to the point. “So in your opinion, Miranda, where is Ashley right now?”
“I believe that she took off, ran away.”
“Why would she do that?”
“She told me her life sucked, big time. She was real mad at her mother, Lori Pond.”
“Was she close to her mom?”
“I don’t think so. You see, Ashley’s mom has a drinking problem, and a lot of the time she is really awful to Ashley.” Miranda rolls her tongue piercing around in her mouth.
“Can you think of a specific example of this?”
“Ashley told me she locks her out of the house for hours sometimes. And she grounds Ashley a lot for no good reasons. Just before Christmas I had a long talk with Ashley about her problems and stuff. You know what she said? She told me she wanted to run away, just get far away from all the stuff going on around her.”
The policewoman looks up from her notes and says, “A lot of adolescents are going through a tough period of adjustment. When most kids talk about getting away, they usually have some destination in mind. Maybe a friend’s or relative’s place. Somewhere safe, maybe. Did Ashley ever confide in you about that?”
“Now I know you’ve already told me about Ashley having problems with her mother, but setting that issue aside for a bit, can you think of any other reasons Ashley would have for taking off?”
Miranda’s expression changes and she looks suddenly sad. “Yeah . . . She hates living where she lives and she hates the way most of the other kids have been treating her. She gets a lot of grief tossed at her every day. I mean, she is kind of rude and snobby a lot of the time, but they’re really mean to her.”
“When did this all start?”
“When Ashley told everybody that Mallori Weaver’s father had been touching her and stuff. But in the end it was never proven. The kids that thought she was lying got pretty mad at her. It caused a lot of hassles for awhile.”
“Miranda, think hard for me; is there anybody you know of that could or would want to hurt Ashley?”
The girl is quiet for a moment as she studies the floor, thinking. She looks up. “Her mom’s new boyfriend Dave lives there with them, but I don’t think Dave would ever hurt her. She actually likes him. He’s nice and buys her stuff. If you ask me, her real problem is Lori, her mom.”
Ironically, the second student to confer with Garcia in the counselor’s office is twelve-year-old Mallori Weaver. Mallori is one of Ashley’s closest friends and is the daughter of the man that Miranda Gaddis had spoken of. Garcia smiles when she asks, “How close are you to Ashley Pond?”
“Not so close now, but last year we were like sisters. My dad took care of her lots a times and in fact, Ashley even lived with us for a long time. She was like part of the family.”
Garcia nods. “So when was this? When was she a part of your household?”
“It was during sixth grade, and then that summer. She moved back to her mom’s at the beginning of seventh grade.”
“During the time she lived with you, how did she get along with your dad?”
“Great, really great. My dad was very nice to Ashley. He bought clothes for her. He even bought her a bike. He fed her and everything. And after all that, I can’t believe that she’d turn around and lie the way she did about him. It wasn’t fair.”
“A lie? What type of lie?”
“Just a few days before seventh grade started, she all of a sudden starts telling people that my dad had tried to rape her or something. After that he kicked her out and she had to go back to live with her sisters and her mom.”
“Mallori, do you remember any times in the past when Ashley ran away or mentioned running away?”
The child ponders a moment before responding. “Yeah, I think so. In fact I remember she did run away, for a few hours anyway.”
“Who found her?”
“Her mom and my dad found her behind the Foster Farms building. She hadn’t been gone that long. But that’s the only time I know about her running away.”
The detective makes a few notes. “Can you think of any reasons that Ashley would take off without telling anyone first?”
“If she ran away, I think it was because of Lori. Ashley couldn’t stand being home with her mom because of her mom’s drinking problem and the way it made her act.”
“You said you and Ashley had been close.”
“I’m sure then that you must have confided a lot with each other like good buddies often do.”
“Can you tell me any other reasons Ashley was unhappy?”
“Well . . . we both are on the dance team. We have dance practice every day after school to get ready for the competitions. Now, the rule is if you miss one practice you can still compete. But if you miss a second time, then you can’t. Ashley found out on Tuesday that she isn’t going to the next competition. She missed two practices. It made her very unhappy. The next day, yesterday, Wednesday, she was gone.”
“Thanks, Mallori, for all your help. It’s a big job when somebody goes missing so mysteriously like this. But I’m sure we’ll find Ashley.” The detective pauses and looks into the young girl’s eyes. “By the way, is there anything else you want to tell me about Ashley? Anything you can think of that I should know about?”
“Well,” she pauses and then goes on, “I guess so. There was something weird. It was around ten o’clock that same day she disappeared. Wednesday. Lori’s boyfriend, Dave, came over to our house looking for Ashley. While he was there, I asked him about dropping Ashley off at school when she was late, but he said he hadn’t ever been dropping her off at school. What was weird about it was Ashley had told me that Dave was giving her a ride to school on the days she’d missed the bus. And Ashley missed the bus a lot.”
“You live next to Newell Creek Canyon, don’t you?”
“And a lot of your friends, like Ashley and Miranda, live in the apartments adjacent to the canyon, is that right?”
“Are there special places in Newell Creek Canyon where kids hang out?”
“Would you be able to show me where they are, if we went there together?”
“You mean right now, during school?”
“Sure. I can show you, if you think it’ll help.”
“Okay, one little formality. I’ll have to call your parents to secure parental permission.”
“I live with my dad.”
“I see. And what’s his name?”
“Ward, Ward Weaver the third.”
“Do you have his work phone number?”
Within minutes Garcia calls the man’s employer and has Mallori’s father on the phone. “As you may know, Mr. Weaver, Ashley Pond disappeared yesterday and I’m in charge of finding her. I’ve been interviewing kids here at school trying to find some leads. I just had a nice chat with your little girl and she has indicated she knows places in the canyon where some of the neighborhood youngsters hang out. May I have your permission to take her away from school for a while to point out some of these places? Then I’ll bring her right back to finish up her school day.”
Weaver’s response is quick and polite. “Yeah, I heard last night that Ashley was missing. Of course you have my permission. Anything I can do to help, count me in.”1 He proceeds to rattle off details about his knowledge of Ashley Pond. There had been quite a bit of trouble between Ashley and her mother, so the girl had practically lived with the Weaver family for several months last year. Weaver speculates, “Because of family problems, maybe Ashley simply ran away. In any case, I had no contact with her today or yesterday and, in fact, she hasn’t been around my house for several months.”
“Well, the hard truth is, when Ashley gets in situations over her head, she has the nasty habit of shooting off her mouth, making false accusations against people out of anger. I really feel sorry for the child and I hope you find her real soon. She needs professional help. But when you do find her, you need to check out her living situation. Her mom drinks a lot and hangs around with a rough crowd. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of ’em is involved in whatever happened. But if I can ever be of help, feel free to call on me, any time. I wish I had more information for you.”
Detective Garcia thanks the talkative fellow for his comments. “I’ll get Mallori back to the school as soon as we get done at the canyon. It shouldn’t take that long. Call me, sir, if you should think of anything else.”2
Be on the Lookout
For seventeen years Philip Tennyson has operated a videotape service. He rents cameras, makes copies of tapes and shoots and edits videos. Philip conducts his business from a converted garage-office attached to the small home he shares with his blended family, including his wife Linda O’Neal, a high-profile Portland private investigator, her twenty-year-old son Jonathan and Philip’s thirteen-year-old son, Damon. Linda works mostly for defense attorneys. She’s earned a reputation for dogged, detailed investigations, especially homicide cases. Since marrying Philip, six years before, she has moved her office to their house, taking over a spare bedroom and two-thirds of the dining room table. The kitchen separates her office from Philip’s equipment-laden video studio.
On January 10, Philip is sitting at his editing bay examining a clip depicting groups of dancing teenage girls. The video office door swings open as his wife Linda blows in, cell phone to ear. She’s drenched from a pounding rain and clutches a waterlogged bag of groceries, half covered by a tattered umbrella. She is vigorously defending an issue. “I understand your instructions, but it’s not my fault,” she informs the attorney on the other end of the line, “and I will do it, but I’m telling you, the so-called witness doesn’t know a damn thing.” She hangs up, ponders the case she’s working on a moment and then plasters a kiss on the top of Philip’s head before she blasts on through the tiny editing suite into the adjoining kitchen.
Linda calls out to her husband, “Have you finished my surveillance tape yet?”
He shouts a reply toward the kitchen, “I’ve been working on it, but the guy with the dance team tape wants forty copies at ten bucks apiece. I’m doing your surveillance tape for love, so guess which project comes first?”
While putting the groceries away, Linda hears Philip’s telephone ring repeatedly. “Philip, catch your phone,” she yells.
“I’m right in the middle of an edit. I’ll get it in just a minute.” Finally, he picks up and Linda hears him talking to Maria, his eldest daughter by a previous marriage.
Linda meanders toward the editing cubicle.
“Have you seen my niece, Ashley, in the last day or two?” Maria asks sharply.
“No, we haven’t seen Ashley.” Philip asks, “Why?”
Maria abruptly requests to speak with Linda. Philip shrugs and hands over the phone.
“What’s going on?” Linda asks.
“Ashley didn’t come home from school last night and we’re calling everyone we can think of. So far, no one has seen her.”
Linda reflects for a moment. “Didn’t she drive Damon crazy on some camping trip you guys went on last year?”
“She did pester him a lot, huh? Ashley’s a pistol. She’s got a definite attitude, no arguing there.”
“So what happened, you think she ran off?”
“No, I really don’t think so, Linda. Ashley spent last weekend here with her cousins and we all had a great time. She was fine when we took her home to her mother. She was in a good mood and wouldn’t have run away.”
Linda and Philip hadn’t seen much of his step-grandchild.
“Is she more sophisticated than other twelve-year-olds?” Linda has unconsciously switched into her private investigator’s voice.
“Not really. She’s on the dance team and she’s involved with other activities at school.”
“Do you think she has an older boyfriend?”
“No, Ashley isn’t into boys. After her problems with her father, she isn’t really into the boyfriend thing. Remember she won’t even be thirteen until March 1. Lori called the police yesterday, but the first thing they think is runaway. I’m really getting worried. Can you help?”
“I’ve got a friend who works for Clackamas County. If Ashley is still missing by tomorrow, I’ll get a hold of my friend and see what I can find out. In the meantime, widen the scope of the calls. Call everyone you can think of. She may just be hiding out in plain sight. Don’t worry, we’ll find her. These types of disappearances are really very common, especially with teenagers who are troubled or feel misunderstood. Ninety-five percent of the time the kids turn up.”
Maria seems unconvinced, but thanks Linda for her advice and hangs up.
Philip looks up at his wife. “Yeah, but what happens to that other five percent?”
His brow furrowed, her husband looks apprehensive and Linda suddenly has a gut feeling there may be good reason.
By this time, Viola Valenzuela-Garcia has spent hours interviewing people as she searches for clues to the whereabouts of Ashley, but she’s disappointed. Nothing useful comes forth. Then a call from Gardiner Middle School produces what seems to be a solid lead. Mallori Weaver had approached the vice principal with information she claimed was provided by “Uncle Paul” to the effect that he had actually seen Ashley roaming around a shopping mall. Clackamas Town Center is a large regional mall some four miles from Oregon City. Uncle Paul is Paul Myers, her dad’s closest friend.
Responding to the tip, Detective Valenzuela-Garcia is handing out flyers and continues searching for Ashley while she patrols the main walkways of Clackamas Town Center.1 Earlier in the day she had issued a BOLO, “Be On the Look Out,” alert for white female juvenile, five-feet-five inches, one-hundred-three pounds, brown eyes, long brown hair, date of birth 3/1/89, last seen wearing blue jeans and white sneakers.2
Garcia enters a costume jewelry store and soon begins fingering some garish earrings attached to a central display case. The bespectacled female clerk bids adieu to a departing customer and turns her attention to Garcia. “Sell many of these?” the lady cop asks, holding up a particularly outrageous pair.
Copyright © 2006 by Linda O’Neal, Philip F. Tennyson & Rick Watson. All rights reserved.