Federal agency get involved in search for missing Welch girls

New cameras and underwater drone being used to search mine shafts

PICHER, Okla. — Lorene Bible says she has hope that she’ll get the answers she’s looking for.

Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible were abducted in December 1999, after Freeman’s parents were filled and their home burned to the ground.

Just after the 20 year anniversary, search efforts are getting more support.

“That’s what every family of a missing person hopes for, you know. But to get the magnitude that we’re getting now is unreal,” says Lorene Bible.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement will be helping agencies search four mine shafts in and around Picher.

All of the shafts have been searched before, but with older cameras that shot in black and white.

“Some of them worked very well, and some of them aren’t as clear, hopefully, ya know, we’ve got some more technology with OSMRE’s camera, so we’re still looking for the most advanced technology we can get,” says Greg Stansill, Investigator for the Craig County District Attorney.

“We’re just hoping that with the technology part of looking into some of these mine shafts and areas that we’re able to move forward,” says Bible.

The O.S.M.R.E. will be using a full-color motorized camera and an underwater drone.

“Basically, they need to make an assessment.. the condition of the shafts, what could it take, can we actually go down and excavate some of these mine shafts, these are all questions that we want to get answered,” says Stansill.

And while Bible knows the search of the shafts could take a lot of time, she’s shill holding onto hope.

“You’re always hopeful. Only because it puts this part to an end,” says Bible.

Officials say they’re searching the shafts based on information gathered in the investigation, and not because they have direct evidence the girls are in one of them.

In 2018, 68-year-old Ronnie Busick was charged with the murders of Kathy and Danny Freeman, and the disappearances of Ashley and Lauria.

Busick was found competent to stand trial in December.

The Tulsa Police Department dive team did a search of one shaft in November. You can find that story here: