Differing reports have come forth from law enforcement and a Tulsa TV reporter regarding alleged threats to a witness in the Freeman/Bible case.
WELCH – Discrepancies over facts reported involving the Freeman/Bible murder and kidnapping case caused Craig County Sheriff Heath Winfrey to issue a statement Wednesday afternoon regarding an “incorrect report.”
A Tulsa television reporter covering the case of the missing Welch girls filed a report and went on live TV Tuesday, May 1 in a report that headlined with, “Witness reports 'warning shots,' threats connected to 1999 case of missing Oklahoma girls.”
The TV reporter posted on Facebook before the live feed, “I’ve confirmed that one of the witnesses in the Lauria Bible & Ashley Freeman cold case had warning shots fired outside his home and also received several days of threats before that. I’m live in Picher …5 with why even though 2 suspects are dead and 1 is in jail – there is still a strong effort to keep people quiet.”
The reporter did not list sources for the reported information but did say that, “sources confirmed that someone fired shots outside the home of one of the witnesses in the case Monday.”
Sheriff Winfrey's statement sent out to the media May 2 at 1:53 p.m. Wednesday for clarification states:
“An incorrect report has been circulated claiming unnamed officials confirmed a threat to a witness in the “Welch Girls” case. On behalf of multiple law enforcement partners, I can tell you that’s not true.
A report that a witness was threatened or that “warning shots” were fired was thoroughly investigated yesterday. Work by multiple members of various law enforcement agencies concluded the report was unfounded, not substantiated and police found no credible threats.
Reporting unsubstantiated information regarding a threat and shots fired as confirmed fact only serves to intimidate people with knowledge of the whereabouts of the bodies of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible. Which could discourage them from sharing what they know with investigators.
No witnesses in the case have been threatened. Any concerns from witnesses will be properly addressed by law enforcement.
Also on behalf of those working hard to discover where Ashley and Lauria are so we can bring them home to their families we’d like to thank the members of the media who are diligently covering the facts of the case with the goal of justice for the girls in mind.”
The Missouri Sheriff of the county the witness resides in told the Miami News-Record on Thursday morning his agency did investigate a report from the witness of shots fired, and did speak with the TV reporter, but he said his investigators found the witness was never threatened.
“Our deputies were called to this location for a report of shots fired, and the reporting party said they saw a vehicle drive down the road behind their house, and they believed that the shots came from that vehicle,” the Missouri Sheriff said. “Our deputies investigated the report, checked the area, no shell casings found, no evidence that shots were fired at all. I'm not saying that there wasn't shots fired, we weren't there, we don't know, but there's no evidence to support that claim.”
The Missouri Sheriff said it is wild turkey season in the area and several hunters were hunting in the area at that time.
“I can tell you that it's highly likely that there was multiple shots fired in that area from turkey hunters,” he said.
The witness did describe the vehicle he saw, a gold Chevrolet Trailblazer, but no such vehicle was located in the area, according to the Sheriff.
The TV newsperson reported the witness received threatening email messages as well.
“That was not part of our investigation because that was not reported to us by the witness,” the Missouri Sheriff said. “I talked to the reporter on the phone and told her exactly what I'm telling you, I don't know what was reported but if she reported anything different than what I'm telling you then it's not accurate.”
The Welch teens, Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, have been missing since 1999 after Freeman's parents were shot and killed and their bodies found in their Welch home destroyed by fire.
OSBI and Craig County investigators believe witness accounts and new evidence proves Ronnie Dean Busick, and two now-deceased conspirators, Phil Welch and David Pennington, shot and killed the Freemans, burned the house to destroy the crime scene and kidnapped the teens before days later murdering the two girls. Investigators believe the crimes involved a drug deal and are based on witness accounts in part.
Busick was extradited last month from a Kansas jail and has been charged in Craig County with four charges of first-degree murder, two kidnapping and one count of arson.
Busick met with Lauria Bible's family in the Craig County Jail Thursday, April 26, and maintains that he does not know what happened to the girls or where their bodies may be located.
FREEMAN/BIBLE CASE TIMELINE
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.