RANGELY I A year after the body of Laurie French, 38, was found off County Rd. 23 just outside of Rangely, her family and friends have questions about how her disappearance was handled by law enforcement.
French was born in California in November 1981 and moved to Grand Junction with her parents and sisters in 1993. Her mental health began to decline after she was raped, followed by attempts to self-medicate with illicit and prescription drugs. She had several stays in treatment facilities, according to her father, Richard Reno.
“Her mental health and drug addiction issues always led her to God. She loved God, and it is evident through reading her journals that she had a relationship with Jesus,” Reno said via Messenger. One of her journal entries, a list she made for 2020, shared by Reno, reads: “1. Get credit in order/restored 2. Stop talking about my past 3. Forgive/forget 3. Be happy 5. Depend on the Lord 6. Seek peace, live in peace 8. Trust in the Lord 8. Submit to God, stay submitted to God 9. Don’t WORRY 10. Pray more!”
Her relationships with men, however, tended to be a source of distress, from breakups that caused her to “fall apart” to an overdose after taking a boyfriend’s father’s prescription medication. French spent 90 days in jail in Utah after striking a nurse during treatment for the overdose. A return to the family home in Colorado, and two more suicide attempts, followed.
Despite her problems, she was loved by her friends and family. “She had a good heart, she loved children and nature. Her only downfall was the drug use,” Reno said of his daughter.
She married Kaine French and moved to Rangely, but the marriage dissolved quickly. She met Dennis Hodges, a Rangely truck driver several years her senior, at a yard sale.
“He took her in and helped her. They became close friends and he stood by her through all her mental health problems,” Reno said of Hodges.
Hodges was the last person to get a text from French, not long before she died, in which she said nobody cared for her and that she didn’t “have very long to go.”
Suicidal ideation had tormented her for years, according to Hodges. “It was an ongoing thing for her. She always said she wanted to go home to God.”
French was a client of MindSprings mental health, and had been admitted to the mental hospital three times over several years. Hodges accompanied French to many of her appointments.
“She was actively trying to get help,” Hodges said.
Diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, French had prescriptions for Adderall and Vyvanse — amphetamines used for treating ADHD. French would abuse the drugs, and MindSprings would increase the dosage, Hodges said. When her prescriptions ran out, French turned to illegal drugs, creating a cycle of addiction.
MISSING PERSON REPORT AND POLICE RESPONSE
The day she went missing, Hodges reported her missing and told law enforcement her car was parked off County Rd. 23. Hodges said Rangely Police Officer Jesse Leech drove out and checked the car. The RBC Sheriff’s Office was contacted by RPD, according to the incident report, and three deputies examined the car, the surrounding area, and conducted interviews with Hodges and other parties known to French. Deputies continued to scan the area where her car was found over the next few days, according to the report.
Hodges said he also returned to the site where French’s car was found and searched the area daily, along with a handful of local volunteers.
‘NOBODY SEEMED TO DO ANYTHING’
Hodges expressed surprise at the lack of a coordinated response from law enforcement.
“Nobody seemed to do anything,” he said. “They didn’t pull the drones out until the day they found her.” Hodges alleges one of the deputies — who is no longer on the force — made a comment that “he didn’t give a damn about those kinds of people,” meaning known drug users.
On Sept. 16, 2020, following calls from French’s father, a search and rescue team was called in. A K-9 unit out of Grand Junction located a body. French was tentatively identified by a ladybug tattoo on her hand that matched one Hodges has. They’d gotten the tattoos together.
Asked about the lack of a swift and coordinated search and rescue response, Ninth Judicial District Attorney Jeff Cheney told the HT that when an adult party goes missing, law enforcement takes into consideration the person’s free will and right to leave a place or situation of their own accord.
“They have the right to leave,” Cheney said.
For friends and family, concerned about a person who has gone missing, that policy can be troubling. A similar response was provided by Town of Dinosaur marshals following the disappearance of Dinosaur resident Robin Vonbargen in 2019. Her car was eventually noticed by a road and bridge driver in a ravine between Dinosaur and Rangely six weeks after her disappearance.
“It’s just crazy how they don’t do anything,” Hodges said. “I think they could have done more.”
Reno echoed Hodges’ frustrations, writing: “I and the family feel she was not served well when we reported her missing. Eight days before a search is mounted is unacceptable! We hope and pray that other families won’t have to go through what we did at the poor handling of this through the Rio Blanco Sheriff’s department. We do commend CBI [Colorado Bureau of Investigation] and the Coroner’s office, they were outstanding! We also want to say that the District Attorney’s office was not very receptive to us and communication would have been nonexistent if we hadn’t been so persistent.”
There was more to French than her mental health problems and attempts to self-medicate, both Hodges and Reno shared.
Reno said his daughter completed a 200-hour yoga instructor course and taught yoga classes for a time, learned to be a barista while in Montana, and “did the best she could in this life and touched the lives of many people.”
“She was very sweet, loving, kind, wouldn’t hurt a bug. She liked the outdoors, animals; she loved to cook,” Hodges said. “Her body, her mind, everything failed her.”
By NIKI TURNER – firstname.lastname@example.org