HUNTINGTON — It was the ending no one wanted to hear. Huntington Police detectives tell 13 News the body of Leah Hickman’s was found Friday evening. It was found in the basement of Hickman’s 8th Avenue apartment building near a common laundry area.
Police said they are unable to confirm that it is Hickman. In the words of Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook, “We strongly believe it is the body of Leah Hickman, but we can not be certain until the crime scene is processed.”
Officers with the Huntington Police Department notified Hickman’s family about today’s finding.
Authorities conducted an extensive forensic investigation at 403 8th Avenue. They were on the scene much of the day Saturday. Around 1:00 p.m. Saturday afternoon, the body was removed from the apartment and taken to the State Medical Examiner’s office in South Charleston. An autopsy will be performed and the state medical examiner will make a positive identification.
The Marshall student had not been seen or heard from since Friday, December 14th. The last contact with her was around 5:30 that evening when she called a friend from her cell phone. Hickman picked up food from a Huntington McDonald’s. The receipt for the purchase was found in her apartment as were Hickman’s car keys, sweater, jacket and the luggage she packed to go home for Christmas.
Hickman was supposed to meet a friend last Friday evening. When she did not show up, the friend got worried and called Hickman’s cell phone. There was no answer. The friend didn’t think much of it. However, she says she became very worried Saturday morning when she still had not heard back from the Marshall student.
The 21-year-old lived near Point Pleasant in Mason County. Her family has rallied community support for the past seven days as they have searched the area. Internet web-sites MySpace and Facebook have posted information about Leah asking anyone with information about her whereabouts to call Huntington detectives.
Although Huntington Police said they could not yet make a positive ID, Police Chief Skip Holbrook said at a press conference Friday night that they’re sure the body they found earlier Friday is that of missing Marshall Student Leah Hickman.
Hickman’s family was notified of the discovery and reporters were asked to give the family time to grieve before trying to ask them any questions about Leah’s death.
Hickman had been the object of an intensive search and campaign to find her by friends, family and complete strangers as well as by police for exactly one week from when she was last seen doing dishes at the very apartment where she was found in a crawl space, beside the common-area laundry room in the basement, Friday.
Reporters at the press conference asked and many in the community wonder how it is that Hickman’s body could have been right there all along, when early reports indicated that she was expected to be doing laundry the evening she went missing, yet police did not find her.
Most questions reporters asked about that were met with responses that indicated they could not be fully answered yet due to the on-going investigation.
Leah Hickman, a broadcast journalism major at Marshall University, was reported missing Sunday after she failed to show up for her shift at a local Dress Barn Saturday night. The only thing noticeably missing from her apartment was her cell phone. (Family Handout)
Family and friends describe 21-year-old Leah Hickman as thoughtful, caring and loyal, the type of young woman who has no enemies and would call into work even if she was going to be just five minutes late.
They are all personality characteristics that have her loved ones growing increasingly concerned five days after the West Virginia woman disappeared without a trace.
Hickman, a broadcast journalism major at Marshall University, was reported missing Sunday first by her mother, Sherry Russell, and then by her father, Ronald Hickman, after she failed to show up for her shift at a local Dress Barn Saturday night.
Earlier Saturday, Jessica Vickers, Hickman’s 25-year-old half-sister, had stopped by their shared Huntington, W.Va., apartment at her mother’s request.
“I came by, her car was here,” Vickers told ABC News. “Everything looked normal with the exception of her purse and her keys lying there. At the time, I thought she maybe left with a friend for a couple of minutes.”
But calls to the college student’s cell phone, Hickman’s only noticeably missing item, were rejected. The voice mailbox was full.
Monday, their mother and friends of Hickman went to the state police. They also met again with Huntington detectives, Vickers said, laying out an hour-by-hour fact pattern.
From the telephone company, they received Hickman’s cell phone records and they called every number that was unfamiliar — an effort that turned up nothing suspicious, but helped get the word out to Hickman’s group of friends that she had disappeared.
The last phone call made by Hickman was to a friend around 5:40 p.m. Friday. There was nothing noteworthy about the call — Hickman said she was going to McDonald’s to get some dinner. The wrappings and receipt from her meal were found at the apartment.
Police have since seized Hickman’s laptop and have asked to take the woman’s car as well to process it for evidence.
Vickers said that her younger sister does not have any enemies that she knows of and has not had any recent boyfriends. Hickman had been on some dates with one man she had met recently, but their family contacted him and “he’s absolutely worried sick about all of this.”
She also said that Hickman is not a big “party” person and that despite her parents living in different places, everyone in the family gets along well.
Hickman’s friends, who have plastered fliers throughout the region, also are trying to elevate the case online, posting messages on her MySpace page and creating a Facebook group devoted to her search.
Roger Parker, a friend of Hickman’s, is the administrator of the Facebook group. Parker, who described Hickman as “caring, outgoing and loyal,” said that while friends and family are trying to remain optimistic, it’s difficult not to think about possible foul play.
“We keep trying to think of good outcomes,” Parker told ABC News, “but I don’t know what could have happened to her.”
Vickers said that her sister’s disappearance is just so out of character that something must be wrong. “She would never do anything to make our mother cry,” Vickers said. “She’s holding it together and she’s doing everything she can, but it’s getting harder and harder.”
Hickman has blue eyes and brown hair. She is described as 5 feet 2 inches tall and 130 pounds.
Body of Missing Marshal University student, Leah Hickman, May Have Been Found
Police may have found the body of who they believe to be Leah Hickman Friday night.
Studying broadcast journalism, 21 year old Leah Hickman was a well liked student of Marshal University in West Virginia. Her family and friends thought of her as a caring and loyal woman. She was the type of person who “would call into work even if she was going to be just five minutes late” (ABC News). But when she never came to work at Dress Barn last Saturday, her friends and family began to worry.
The last known contact with Leah before her disappearance was a call on her cell phone with a friend. There was no indication that anything was wrong. Hickman mentioned that she would be doing laundry that evening.
While searching Hickman’s apartment building for evidence, authorities found a body in a crawl space in the basement of the building where the laundry room is located. A positive ID has not been made, but the police have already notified Hickman’s family.
There are currently no suspects.