When Lorene Bible’s teen daughter vanished following a mysterious and deadly blaze, the mother could not rest until she had found out what happened to her child.
Lauria Bible disappeared after she went to her best friend Ashley Freeman’s home for a sleepover on Dec. 30, 1999 in Welch, Oklahoma. The two girls were just 16. That night, the Freeman home went up in flames and when investigators arrived the next morning, they found the bullet-riddled bodies of Freeman’s parents, Danny and Kathy Freeman, inside.
The whereabouts of the teens has long remained a mystery, though recently the sole surviving suspect entered a guilty plea in connection with their presumed murders. Ronnie Busick, 68, was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murder charges in 2018 but recently took a plea deal to one count of accessory to murder in the first degree.
The road to Busick's conviction was a long one, as author Jax Miller explained in her book on the case,“Hell in the Heartland: Murder, Meth, and the Case of Two Missing Girls.” While Miller took on a lot of work in the case, she made it clear that it was Lorene Bible who put in the biggest effort.
“She’s the real hero in this story,” Miller told Oxygen.com. “Lorene Bible has been working this case as she lives and breathes the past 20 years and she’s the one who knocked on doors and goes into the nitty gritty.”
She called Lorene’s work “monumental.” Indeed, from the beginning Lorene has been taking over the reins of the investigation.
She, along with her husband, Jay, even discovered one of the bodies in the case that authorities initially overlooked. After investigators searched the Freemans' charred trailer and found the remains of Kathy Freeman, Lorene and her husband took a look around themselves. On their own, they found the body of Danny Freeman.
Soon after, with her face full of wet ash, she told investigators, “'You’re just going to have to do it our way,'” according to “Hell in the Heartland.”
Lorene led a team of volunteers as they combed the property for clues. She also stridently told investigators, “We’re not leaving here until we know that this place has been searched thoroughly this time.”
The “fearless” mother, as Miller described her, continued searching for clues for the next 20 years. In doing so, Lorene often put herself in harm’s way, proving that nothing can stop a tenacious mother from searching for her daughter. Miller wrote that in 2000, Lorene drove a pickup truck filled with people who had connections to the drug cartel so that she could meet a notorious and violent drug kingpin.
“How do you know I won’t kill you?” the kingpin asked upon meeting her. She coolly replied “How do you know I won’t kill you?” according to Miller's book. Lorene then questioned the man until she was certain that the drug cartel had nothing to do with Lauria and her best friend's disappearance. Miller asked Lorene if that encounter scared her.
"Just another day I look for my daughter," the mother replied with a fixed stare.
Miller told Oxygen.com that Lorene even met Busick face to face and asked him where her daughter is.
"I know she wouldn’t turn her back on danger for one second," Miller said. "For her daughter's whereabouts, she would walk through fire and she practically has [...] walked through fire and she would meet any dangerous criminal."
Lorene worked fervently to keep the case alive, and most reports about the missing girls have cited her input. She spoke out to KOAM, which covers northeast Oklahoma, in 2010. Three years later, she pushed for community members to look at age-progressed photos of her daughter and Ashley Freeman in a KOTV report.
She told Tulsa World in 2017 that she aimed at “stirring the pot” and would continue until she found the truth.
“For me, I decided early on that I was going to find my child — or I was going to do everything I physically can to do that,” she told the outlet.
It was only during a 2018 press conference which announced the arrest of Busick that Miller saw the mother allow a release of emotion. She was teary, but only for a bit.
“I was told earlier today that I sometimes seem kind of hard,” she said at the press conference, holding back more tears, according to Miller's writing. “I fight. That tearful mom will be there when I find my daughter. But until then, how hard? How hard do I have to fight? I need to know — because it’s been a fight.”
Miller, who called herself a “megaphone to serve” Lorene and other relatives in the case, told Oxygen.com that if anyone deserved credit for keeping the story in the limelight and for the recent developments in the case, it is Lorene.
“I really just wanted to help shake some trees,” Miller said. “She’s the hero.”
She told Oxygen.com that nothing scared Lorene.
"She is the most fearless woman you’ve ever met," she said. "But you have to understand her worst nightmares have come true. What’s left to fear anyway?"
When Busick took the plea deal, he promised to lead investigators to the teenagers' bodies — but failed to do so.
Busick was then sentenced to 10 years behind bars on Aug. 31. If he had led investigators to their remains, he could have been sentenced to just five years.
Investigators will continue to search for the remains of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman.
"They were young and beautiful, but you know that," Lorene told Busick in court during his sentencing hearing, according to Fox23 News. "They were innocent, but you and your other buddies took that away from them. They did nothing to you."
While she called him an "evil man," she ended her statement by telling Busick, "May God have mercy on you."
Miller, who was in the courtroom during the sentencing, told Oxygen.com that Lorene's statement was a "testament to her strength."
"How she can forgive a man like that who took her only daughter? I don’t know if I could be so compassionate," she said.
Digital correspondent Stephanie Gomulka contributed to this report.
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