With the sentencing of the remaining suspect in the 1999 murders of two Welch girls, the criminal case has reached its end. Prosecutors and family said their search will only continue.
Ronnie Busick pleaded guilty in court for accessory to murder and has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 5 years of a suspended sentence.
Lorene Bible, mother of Lauria Bible, gave a impact statement, sharing her faith and forgiveness in court, before the judge gave the sentence.
“Twenty years, eight months, and one day ago, on December 30, 1999 you made a choice,” Bible said. “You chose to go with two other men and change the course of so many lives, including your own… You continued to be a part of the unthinkable things our girls endured before you were a part of ending their lives. You had a choice.”
In 1999, Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible were kidnapped after Freeman's parents, Danny and Kathy, were killed in their mobile home. The house was found on fire early the next morning, and that fire was ruled as arson.
Police records show both parents were killed before the fire when someone shot them in the head, then left to burn in the house fire.
The girls have been missing since December of 1999 and presumed to have been murdered.
"This chapter is closed, but this story is far from over," Lisa Bible-Brodrick, Lauria's cousin, said.
Isaac Shields, Craig County Chief of Prosecution said, “we’ll keep looking for Ashley [Freeman] and Lauria. We had to balance a prison term that gets a measure of justice for the families and the community while offering an incentive for his cooperation.”
Busick was told he would get a shorter prison sentence if his information led investigators to the girls’ bodies.
Teams searched the Picher area in what they believed to be a ‘promising site’ earlier in August to dig up an old root cellar. Investigators said one of the men involved in the murders once lived there but has since died.
Investigators dug the area but found nothing.
Related Story: Search For Missing Welch Girls Comes Up Empty
After Busick’s sentencing, lead investigators OSBI Special Agent Tammy Ferrari and District Attorney Investigator Gary Stansill were able to share information they could not previously make public.
They said Phil Welch, David Pennington and Ronnie Busick originally visited the Freeman’s mobile home in December 1999 in search of drug money and marijuana. Investigators said that the two girls had gotten out of the mobile home and tried to escape while Ashley’s parents Danny and Kathy Freeman were killed.
Busick also told officials that Pennington, who died before Busick was arrested, told him they held the girls for two weeks before they were murdered.
We will never be okay,” Lorene Bible said in her courtroom statement. “That does not mean that we can ever forget the things you’ve done, but we choose not to be filled with hatred and bitterness. We forgive you so that we may free ourselves to move on. You have no power over us. We give you grace so that we may feel peace.”
In a statement, Stansill said he believes Busick tried to provide good information, and Busick heading to prison doesn’t end the search, only bringing the girls home will do that.
The Bible family remains focused on their unwavering commitment to find the girls.
"It's going to happen someday," Jay Bible, Lauria's father said. "The good Lord's going to bring the girls home, that's all there is to it."