Ashland is a vibrant community in southern Oregon just about fourteen miles north of the California border along the 1-5 corridor. It’s a little city of about 21,000 people that lies nestled in a valley surrounded by hills and mountains in an area that seems to draw a fair number of dreamers, artists, poets and writers. Much of Ashland’s charm is that it’s a place where imaginations are encouraged to wander– the world renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival is located here, as well as Southern Oregon University. Tourists fill the sidewalks underneath the bright red flags which line Main Street and for many locals, life in Ashland is zesty, colorful and fun.
It’s a close knit community where neighbors get to know one another and there’s a sense of safety even though terrible things do happen from time to time– some of which go unsolved, like the murder of Dave Lewis whose burnt body was discovered on Memorial Day weekend in 2008. Three years later, twenty-three year old David Grubbs was walking home along a well used bike path and was brutally murdered. Both families await an elusive visitor called justice, which seems to be an infrequent guest in this tourist driven town.
Somehow, even still it’s a magical place to live, work and raise a family.
Just as if it played out on stage, at first the people in this story didn’t feel any sense of alarm in late November 2014. On Thanksgiving Day, Jeff Garner of Kilgore, Texas talked to his 17 year old daughter, Hannah Thomas-Garner by phone. She’d just celebrated her birthday the month before and the teenager spoke of her plans to continue to hunt for a part-time job. An Ashland high school junior and an honors student, Hannah did not have a history of getting into trouble.
Two days later, she disappeared.