Suspicions are growing that the charred skeletal remains found on a farm in Missouri are that of a teenage girl who has been missing for the past three weeks after she went to live with her biological mother last year “for a time” with the support of her lifelong adoptive parents in Minnesota.
Authorities in Ozark County working on making a positive identification have requested and received from Minnesota the dental records of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie, who has been missing from the 81-acre farm home where she had been living for 11 months with her biological mother, a spokesman for the girl’s adoptive parents said Thursday.
The Sheriff’s Office “has given us the news that our beautiful, smart, artistic, outgoing child may no longer be with us,” said a statement from adoptive parents Tamile Montague of Minneapolis and David Leckie of Park Rapids, who are now divorced.
“They have not yet made a positive identification,” the parents’ statement continued. “We have to face the possibility that, though Savannah may be coming home, it might not be the homecoming that we hoped and planned for.”
However, David Leckie appeared resigned that his daughter is dead, writing Wednesday on his Facebook page, “My daughter Savannah has passed away in Missouri. … My Faith in God will get us through this and I will forever miss my sweet girl.”
Leckie’s biological mother, Rebecca Ruud, has told authorities that the teen was home when she went to sleep on the night of July 19 and was not in the home the next morning. Ruud said she and a neighbor searched the property and then contacted authorities later that morning.
The girl’s disappearance was entered into the National Crime Information Center’s Missing Persons database that same day.
Cary Steeves, acting as a spokesman for the girl’s parents in Minnesota, said there is “a lot of strong suspicion” about the remains that turned up in a burn pile 1,200 feet from the home during a search on Aug. 4 and who might be responsible for the teen’s disappearance and possible death.
Ruud has volunteered publicly that she is being investigated as a suspect in Leckie’s disappearance. She started an online campaign on GoFundMe to raise money to pay for an attorney.
“Police are investigating me, which is good that they are eliminating me as a suspect,” she explained on the page, which has since been taken down. “During this investigation they are infringing upon my rights, and I need an attorney. I cannot afford one. If I raise more funds for an attorney than I need, the balance will go toward a reward for information leading to finding my daughter.”
In response to a text message Thursday afternoon from the Star Tribune, the 39-year-old Ruud said, “My attorney has instructed me to speak with no one at this time. I will speak with attorney about media and let you know.”
Steeves said Ruud’s boyfriend also was living at the farm at the time Leckie disappeared. The Ozark County Times reported Thursday that Ruud and Robert E. Peat Jr. were married on the day the remains were found.
Steeves said the adoptive parents made sure Ruud was part of the girl’s life over the years, even including Ruud in birthday and holiday celebrations.
“They never thought in a million years something like this would happen,” Steeves said.
Montague last spoke with her daughter on the teen’s 16th birthday on June 3, meaning they had not been in touch for more than six weeks before the disappearance was revealed.
There was “nothing like big, red flags” suggesting anything amiss with Leckie “other than the lack of communication thing,” Steeves said.
“The uncertainty is overwhelming,” the Minnesota parents’ statement continued. “We believed that Savannah was going to be safe and supported in an environment where she could thrive with her unique gifts and needs when we allowed her to stay for a time with her biological mother on a farm surrounded by the serenity of nature.”