COOS BAY, Ore. – (AP) Debbie Peters of Meridian believes that someone, somewhere, knows who murdered her son in Coos Bay 10 years go. She’s willing to stake $20,000 on it.
The high school government teacher recently announced the increase in the reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of Jonathan Peters’ killer. The reward previously stood at $5,000.
“I came into some money just recently. I wish that I had it 10 years ago, but I just didn’t,” Debbie Peters told The World newspaper.
It’s been 10 years, but Peters vividly recalls the day her son went missing.
Jonathan Peters and a friend, Brian Campbell, had moved from Idaho to Eureka, Calif, but were in Coos Bay working for a sick friend’s landscaping business.
Debbie Peters had spoken with her son on the phone just a few days prior and all seemed fine. But then, on the morning of Jan. 27, 2006, she got a call from Campbell. He said her son was acting erratic. She asked to have Campbell put her son on the phone and Campbell replied that Jonathan had stepped outside.
Then the phone call ended, and Debbie Peters was unable to get Campbell back on the phone until three hours later, when he told her that he had reported Jonathan Peters as missing and that he was going back to California.
The next morning, Debbie Peters and her daughter, Anna Ramsey, drove to Oregon, where she said she struggled to convince the Coos County Sheriff’s Office to investigate her son as a missing person.
She’d make several more visits to Oregon in the coming months, putting up fliers and searching roadsides for signs of her son.
But in July of 2006, Debbie Peters received terrible confirmation of her son’s fate. A utility worker installing a gas line located Jonathan Peters’ remains beneath some brush, just 150 yards from where he was last seen.
From that point forward, the case has remained an open murder investigation. In 2007, Oregon State Police Detective John Riddle took over the case.
Riddle said not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about it.
His office bears mute testimony to that: There’s a white board on the wall covered with notes and questions from the case.
“It’s frustrating. It’s extremely frustrating,” Riddle said. “The family wants to know somebody’s being held accountable.”
Though Riddle says he has identified persons of interest in the case, neither he nor Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier feel there is enough evidence to bring a charge.
“This is one of these cases where the physical evidence does not tell us who committed the crime,” Frasier said. “What’s going to break this case is somebody coming forward and saying, ‘I saw it or heard about it or somebody confessed to me.’ ”
Debbie Peters said that it took more than a year to get her son’s remains back. Jonathan Peters was buried on September 2007 in a family plot in Meridian. Thirteen months later, his sister was buried beside him.
Anna Ramsey had always been particularly close to her brother Jonathan, Debbie Peters said. His murder, and the lack of progress in finding the killer, left her shaken and deeply depressed. In October of 2008, she parked her car near the cemetery where her brother is buried and shot herself in the chest. She was 28.
In a note found in the vehicle, Ramsey wrote that she didn’t want to hurt any more and that she wanted to be with her brother.
Now, she lies in the plot that Debbie Peters said was supposed to have been her own.
“I thought I would die of a broken heart,” she said of how she felt after her daughter died.
Debbie Peters said teaching has helped her to cope, as has taking care of her son and daughter’s dachshunds, Sophie and JP, which she inherited from them.
“These dogs have been my therapy dogs. They’ve helped me with a lot of grief,” she said. “They’re pretty spoiled dogs.”
Her mission to bring justice to her son’s killer also keeps her going.
“It’s torn me up inside in so many ways,” she said. “But I’ve had to set it aside and know that I’ve done everything I can. For Jonathan’s sake, I have to do what I can do.”
She said she wants the chance to look her son’s killer in the eyes, to “talk about the grief that he’s caused.”
She said she wouldn’t support the killer getting the death penalty, however, “because I’d never want another mother to go through what I had to go through.”
But there’s one thing that, no matter what, will never come for Debbie Peters.
“They talk about closure. That’s a stupid word. There is no closure, there’s just a lot of pain.”