Jane Doe ID'd Oct 2, 2007 1:59:27 GMT -5
Post by CSA FD on Oct 2, 2007 1:59:27 GMT -5
17 year old Samantha Bonnell
sketch of victim known at the time as Jane Doe #17-05
The unidentified teen who was struck by several cars and killed as she ran across the 10 Freeway on Sept. 24, 2005, finally has a name and has been laid to rest.
Samantha Bonnell, known as Jane Doe #17-05 for 19 months to the San Bernardino County coroner's office, was identified in April through dental records - after some dedicated investigating by her mother, Mary Weir.
"My life is never going to go back to the way it was, to the way it was before," she said.
Weir said she had to work long and hard to find out what happened to her daughter after Samantha left their Alaska home on March 17, 2005, just three days before her 18th birthday.
"I didn't sleep," said Weir from her home in Palmer, Alaska. "Most of the time, I would get into bed and pretend to fall asleep. But I would slip out of bed and start searching on the Internet all night."
Samantha's plan, her mother said, was to make her way to California with her boyfriend.
The last time Weir talked to her daughter was on Sept. 23, 2005, over the a phone.
The next day, Samantha was seen running in the center median of the eastbound 10 Freeway near Central Avenue in Montclair, according to the coroner's office.
She was struck by several vehicles at about 11 p.m., and died on the scene 20 minutes later.
The victim carried no form of identification.
"By the time she had not contacted home by Christmas, I knew I wasn't looking for a live body," Weir said.
She continued her Internet search and, more than a year later, found the facial reconstruction of Jane Doe #17-05 by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on the Web site of the Doe Network, a missing/unidentified-persons advocacy group.
"I was repeatedly going back to the composite on the Internet for four months," Weir said. "I just kept wondering, `This might be her."'
On April 19, Weir summoned the courage to call the coroner's office to tell them she thought the unidentified girl was her daughter.
More than 150 people had attempted to identify Jane Doe #17-05.
Within four hours of her call, Weir was told it was Samantha. The dental records were a 90 percent match.
The coroner's office took care of Samantha's body for 19 months.
On April 5, Samantha had been buried at the county cemetery. A handful of employees attended her burial.
"You cannot imagine how difficult it was to make the decision to disturb her," Weir said. "I would have just bought her a marker and kept her in California, but they told me she was buried in a vault grave where they (could have) put up to five unidentified bodies in with her."
She arranged to move her daughter to Oregon, where Samantha has family.
Weir has already visited her twice.
Becky Castillo, founder of Missing Children's Poster Partners, worked for a year and a half, posting 10,000-12,000 posters of the facial reconstruction at neighborhood corners, liquor stores, high schools and gas stations and going door to door in the Montclair, Upland, Ontario, Rancho Cucamonga and San Bernardino areas.
Castillo, who works closely with the coroner's office to help identify missing children, said she had mixed emotions when she learned Jane Doe #17-05 was no longer unidentified.
"When she finally got identified, I was numb," Castillo said. "I was pretty excited - excited yet sad.
"She was going home. It was a good sad."
Castillo said she plans to go to Oregon and visit Samantha's gravesite as well.
"Nothing was remotely easy about any of this," Weir said. "But it's OK. She's buried; she's got her marker."
Weir described her daughter as a "free spirit" with a passion for reading. Before she left home, Samantha talked about becoming a lawyer.
"She always had a smile on her face," Weir said. "I lost a lot and think the world lost more than they know."
Through all of this, there's still humor in Weir's voice when she talks of her daughter.
"If she was here right now, I'd kick her butt, because her mother taught her better than to run across the freeway," Weir said.
SHE RAN AS IF BEING CHASED
Then more details of Samantha's death emerged.
Five months later, her mother says she's numb to the details but her words stall when trying to recount them.
The California police reports show that, within an hour of when Weir got that call in 2005, her daughter was hit by at least two cars on Interstate 10 in Montclair, Calif., Weir said.
"I don't even want to think about what kind of a mess it made," she said. "I'm afraid to ask."
The spot on the highway is close to a theater. Witnesses said Bonnell ran across the highway, as if being chased, Weir said. She was not carrying identification.
"No personal belongings whatsoever except for the clothing on her back," Paul Weir said.
"Nothing, not Chap Stick or lip gloss," Mary Weir said.
Once Samantha was identified, Weir talked to coroners in California. They told her they had kept Samantha's body in cold storage longer than most because she seemed like the type of person who had people who cared for her.
The only people at the burial were coroner's staff.
Weir said that at first she was planning on leaving her daughter there. But then the coroner's office told her she was in the county cemetery, in a grave used to store unclaimed bodies.
They told her "right now she was in there by herself," Weir said, "I said, 'She's in there by her ... what?' Well, they stack them up to five deep."
She arranged to have Samantha's body flown to Oregon.
WHAT TOOK SO LONG?
Though she was noticeably more subdued during an interview this month, in April Weir was visibly angry with Peterson. What did Peterson do with the information she'd forwarded and why did she have to track her daughter down on her own? What took so long?
Earlier this month Peterson explained that law enforcement generally wants reports filed closer to where the person went missing.
"You don't have any idea where to start in another state," she said. "The reason I took this case is because she had already indicated she had tried those avenues and was unsuccessful."
Peterson said she did what she could, then forwarded the case to the state's Missing Person's Clearing House. Those folks have in-state cases to deal with that they prioritize before moving on to others, she said.
What angered Weir the most, she said, is her perception that she sent Peterson a link to Samantha's doenetwork.org page and the trooper did nothing with it.
Peterson said she did do something -- she sent it to the clearinghouse. But she didn't feel right asking Weir to work directly with them as she'd been bounced around so much already.
Weir this summer started working to get legislation passed to make it mandatory for law enforcement agencies to take missing persons reports, even for people over the age of 18 missing out of state. She's been talking to legislators and, really, anybody she can buttonhole.
"You're not safe standing next to me at the grocery store," Weir said. "I've become the very thing I never wanted to be -- an activist."
She gets e-mails from people with missing children.
And she hasn't stopped looking at unidentified bodies on the Internet. There's one case she thinks she can solve -- a woman found wearing a necklace from a fraternity or sorority.
"I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to put a name to somebody," Weir said.
On Mother's Day, Samantha was buried in Rainier, Ore., where a lot of Weir's family lives.
The funeral was well attended. There was a collection box for donations to doenetwork.org.
Afterwards, they collected petals from Bonnell's coffin piece and spread them on the aisle at her sister's wedding.