Still no arrest in Freeman investigation
Balloons, stuffed animals and messages take up part of the fence to Coquille High School. Leah Freeman's mother, Cory Courtright spends hours each week replacing balloons and reading messages. - World Photo by Lou Sennick

COQUILLE -- After months of following leads and double-checking information, the Coquille Police Department has not named a suspect in the murder of 15-year-old Leah Freeman.

The Coquille teen-ager disappeared three months ago today, on June 28, sometime after 9 p.m. while walking home along Central Avenue from a friend's house. Her body was found by police more than a month later about 10 miles from town in the Lee Valley Road area.

"In cases like this, we sometimes reach a slow-down point until we get more evidence," Coquille Police Chief Mike Reaves said. "Right now we have had to verify a lot of things."

The Coquille Police Department is leading the investigation into the murder case, along with assistance from the Coos County Major Crime Investigation Team and the Oregon State Police.

In late August, the Coquille Police chief issued a press release stating that an "authority figure" in the community was advising potential witnesses not to answer questions or cooperate in the investigation of Leah's murder. Reaves said the authority figure, whom he declined to identify, is no longer dispensing advice.

The officers involved in the investigation are continuing to work on the case and are also waiting for an autopsy report to be completed by the state pathologist.

"I was told that (report) could take months to get back," he said.

When asked if there were any suspects in the murder case, Reaves said, "None I want to talk about."

For Cory Courtright, Leah Freeman's mother, the past three months have been filled with grief over her loss and the frustration of not being able to find out who killed her daughter. That frustration is compounded by the feeling of being kept out of the informational loop by the police.

"We haven't heard from the Coquille Police Department in about a week," Courtright said. "I don't know, maybe they have run out of leads. I don't know what they are doing. I just know we haven't heard from them in quite a long time."

Courtright acknowledged that her daughter's case is going to take time, but it still doesn't make it easier for her family. She said she feels the investigation is slowing down "but this is not over and done with by a long shot."

"We're still waiting for the autopsy reports. A waiting game, that's very much what this is," she said, "one that is starting to drive my family insane."

Courtright's mother, Dorothy, said she hopes the police catch whoever committed this crime soon.

"Three months of waiting is a long time," Dorothy said. "It's devastating for our family, especially because this was such a horrendous crime. The memorial gave us partial closure, but until a person is apprehended, we will not be able to get full closure."

The persistent rumors about Leah's disappearance and death have plagued the town almost from the start. Cory said she has had to learn to push aside what people tell her for her own sanity.

"I don't believe anything until the police tell me something now," she said. "It's hard to do because you want to believe some of the things you hear, but you can't. So we are learning to just take things one day at a time."

Some days, Cory said, she feels like she is watching a movie instead of what has happened in her life. She always believed this sort of thing doesn't happen to people in real life.

Cory said she thought finding her daughter's body would bring her closure, but it didn't. Then the month of September arrived and opened fresh wounds. Leah would have been a sophomore this fall at Coquille High School.

"She's supposed to be there … . School started and that's where she is supposed to be," Cory said. "Now it is just frustrating and disturbing to know that the person who killed her is still freely walking the streets."

As a way to help the town and her friends remember her daughter, Cory and a few of her friends have created a memorial out of balloons, stuffed animals and even a mailbox where people can leave messages for Leah at the front entrance to Coquille High School.

"People have put a few letters in the box for her and it lets people say things they need to to her," she said.

Cory spends about six hours a week replacing balloons, reading messages and making sure the wall looks good. Most of the work is done late at night when she gets off work.

"It's not the best time to work on it, but it's the only chance I get," she said. "It is easier then too."

Cory said she is furious with the "authority figure" who was complicating the case by telling people not to come forward with information. It is hard knowing that someone out there knows what happened to her daughter and is just not talking to the police, she said.

"I can't believe that her life didn't mean anything, that no one has come forward, that Leah didn't mean any more than that," Cory said, wiping away tears. "She was a good, decent person. She deserves for someone to come forward and say something if they know anything."

"How can people live with themselves if they know something and are not saying anything," she said. "Where is their conscience?"

Leah Freeman's family is establishing a scholarship in her name.

"It will be a legacy in a way," Leah's mother Cory Courtright said. "It will be something positive to come from this."

Donations can be sent to the Coquille School District Office at 201 N. Gould St., Coquille, Ore. 97423.


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