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COQUILLE, ORE - It has been nine years since a young, teen-age, girl was murdered in Coquille. But, in that time, neither her family nor the investigators involved have wavered in their belief that justice will one day be served.
This June 28th passed in Coquille as too many of those dates have in recent years, with a candlelight vigil to remember the day that 15 year old Leah Freeman disappeared, only to be found murdered several weeks later.
Cory Courtright, Freeman's mother, says it is another part of their effort to keep Leah's story from fading. "I just grab any chance I can to keep her name out in the public where I feel it belongs."
While the case is considered "Cold," Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier and investigators involved in the case say it is still very much active.
"Granted, we don't have someone working on it eight hours a day," says Frasier, "but as soon as something comes in, we're on it."
And, while they have never named any suspects in the case, they have tried to exclude people from consideration when they could. Which is something they have not done when it comes to some young men named in public court documents that were no longer sealed back in 2001.
Frasier says when a tip comes in they look into it and go through the investigative process, " and if it excludes someone, you know, obviously, we know that's not the way to go. All I can say about the documents released a couple years ago is the persons named there have not been excluded as potential suspects."
While that doesn't mean they are any closer to a resolution in the case, two things have happened in the last year to at least offer some promise for the future.
One was the sudden developments in another high profile cold case in Oregon, the case of Stephanie Condon. The sudden developments in that ten year old case have shown how fast things can change.
But, for investigators, the other change is even more important. It is the addition of a new set of eyes to take a closer, and fresher, look at the case.
Coquille Police Chief Mark Dannels says one of the big obstacles that he has faced since coming on board was to actually put the case in chronological order, where it is manageable. "One of the advantages is the fact now they've got some new eyes, a fresh look looking into it, new technology out there for the collection of evidence that we're gonna look at and see if there's some approaches there we can take."
Dannels says they have an obligation, he as Chief and his Department, to see if they can solve this case.
But what it all still seems to boil down to is that, to this point, justice has been denied to a young girl and the family she left behind, for nine years. Nine years where some folks, it is still firmly believed, out of either misplaced loyalty or fear, have helped to deny that justice.
"We challenge anybody, and I encourage anybody that has any new leads or information to contact the Coquille Police Department," says Dannels, "if they want to speak to me personally I welcome that."
For Freeman's mother and her family, Leah's murder just needs to be solved, "it needs to end...Leah deserves that."
To find out more about the case you can visit the website leahfreeman.com. Family and friends are also planning a second candlelight vigil this year for August 3rd, to commemorate the day in 2000 when Leah's body was found.
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