"Don't give up, don't ever give up!”

North Carolina State coach Jim Valvano at the 1993 ESPY Awards.

VINITA — Even though it has been 20 years since the disappearance of Lauria Bible and Ashley Freeman, families of the girls have never given up in the hope they will eventually be found.

That was apparent during a candlelight vigil held here Monday, Dec. 30.

“Anyone who has lost a daughter the way we lost Lauria, we would the same thing,” Lorene Bible told the group on a cold and windy evening at Vinita’s South Park. “You ask ‘how do you do this?’ How do you not do this? It’s by a lot of family, friends and the community that is there every day saying ‘what do need me to do for you to get you through it?’”

Lauria and Ashley disappeared in the early morning hours of Dec. 30, 1999. Authorities believe the pair were kidnapped and held in a Picher home for several days before being killed. Ashley’s parents, Kathy and Danny Freeman, were found dead of gunshot wounds in their home near Welch, which had been burned down.

There were three primary suspects in the case: Ronnie Dean Busick, Warren Phillip Welch II and David Pennington.

Busick is the only surviving member. He is being held in the Craig County Jail awaiting a Feb. 7 hearing after it was at a competency hearing in Vinita that he could stand trial on charges in the case.

Busick has denied any involvement or knowledge of where the girls’ remains might be.

Welch died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, and Pennington’s death was drug-related.

There have been numerous searches in the Picher area, but no solid leads have been found.

One family member said, “we are still faithful and strong in our resolve to find those two girls — and we are going to find them. It’s been 20 years, but someday, we are going to find them. Don’t give up on us and don’t give up on praying for us because some day the Lord is going to show us where they’re at and we are going to have the answers we want.”

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent Tammy Ferrari and district attorney investigator Gary Stansill have worked together since the first days of the investigation.

“Even though we have somebody in jail, we are still working very seriously to find the girls,” Ferrari said. “We are still doing searches, following up on tips. If you know something or have heard something, please take the opportunity to call us and let us know — even if it’s something small.”

“It’s been a heavy burden on all of us; me, Tammy, the hundreds of people I work with and the law enforcement officers. We all carry the same burden,” Stansill said. “We want this burden lifted. I believe the Lord is leading us. I pray every day for His guidance.

“I have to believe in my heart that we are going to bring them home.”