Confronting a killer
- Jim Redden
- Portland Tribune - News
The sister of a Ward Weaver victim faces him - and her past
It has been seven years since Ward Weaver terrorized Oregon City by kidnapping and murdering two young girls.
Ashley Pond, 12, was reported missing in early 2002. Miranda Gaddis, 13, disappeared exactly two months later. Their bodies were found on Weaver's rented Oregon City property that summer. He pleaded guilty to the murders and assaulting two other teenage girls a few months later and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Now, one of Gaddis' sisters is confronting the devastating effect the murders had on her life.
Miriah Gillett was 11 when Weaver murdered the two girls. Now 18, she considers herself estranged from both her mother and the relatives who adopted her after the killings.
Before the bodies were found, Miriah knew Weaver as a kind and generous man who lived near the apartment complex where her family and the Pond family lived. Now, in an effort to confront the past, Miriah has met twice with Weaver at the Oregon State Penitentiary during the past several months to learn the details of the murders.
Although Weaver pleaded guilty to the crimes, he never confessed to investigators or volunteered any details about them.
'I had to know what happened,' said Miriah. 'It was the only way I could put it behind me.'
That happened last month during her second visit with Weaver. Miriah said it was a horrifying conversation, with Weaver admitting that he killed both girls for the first time. According to Miriah, Weaver described how he killed them with his bare hands. He also detailed how he hid the bodies from police dogs by moving them around.
'He was a completely different person than before,' said Miriah. 'He laughed insanely and looked crazy.'
Weaver also told Miriah that he planned to kill her next, she said.
Weaver did not respond to a letter from Portland Tribune for comment about Miriah's statements.
Miriah said she was so shaken by Weaver's words that she plunged into despair and grew suicidal. But then she pulled herself back together and vowed that she would honor her sister's memory by organizing a vigil in honor of her sister. It will be held from 4:30 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 8, the seventh anniversary of Miranda's disappearance, in front of the empty lot where Weaver's house once stood at 2507 South Beavercreek Road in Oregon City.
Miriah regularly visits her sister's grave in the hills above their hometown. 'I don't want her to ever be forgotten,' she said.
Sitting in her aunt's Oregon City apartment last week, Miriah looks like any other young woman. As she rummaged through a box of Miranda's former belongings, she laughed easily and smiled at the contents, including family photos and a few items from the memorial that spontaneously sprung up around Weaver's rental house - such as an elaborate pair of angel's wings left by an unknown mourner.
'So many people felt they knew Ashley and Miranda,' said Terry Hyne, Miriah's aunt. 'Even if they didn't, they knew other relatives or young girls just like them.'
But Miriah has led a life that is anything but normal. Her sister's murder is just one of many tragic events that she has overcome. Miriah considers herself estranged from her mother, Michelle Duffey, who lives in Salem.
Now, as she is preparing to take criminal justice classes at Portland Community College, Miriah is talking about the lessons she learned to help others facing nearly insurmountable odds.
'Now I can say I'm dealing with all this stuff now,' she said. 'In 20 or 30 years, I hope I can say I dealt with it and I'm helping others understand they are not alone.'
Miriah was born and spent the first 13 years of her life in Oregon City. Her father, Jason Richard Gaddis, was convicted of kidnapping and sexually assaulting two young girls in February 1995. Today, Miriah says she has only one memory of her father - the day the police came to arrest him on the charges.
'The police showed up and he grabbed Miranda and used her as a hostage,' Miriah said. 'He threatened to hurt her if the police didn't leave. Instead, they tackled him from behind and hauled him away.'
Gaddis was sentenced to six months in prison and 54 years of post-release supervision. Miriah's parents divorced the next year.
More trouble was not far away, however. Within a few years, her mother let boyfriend Brett Edward Mcenaney move in. According to Clackamas County Court records, he began abusing Miriah, her two sisters and a brother.
The abuse happened every day, Miriah said, until January 1999, when Mcenaney was arrested and charged with 15 counts of sex abuse and two counts of assaults. He pleaded guilty to several of the charges 10 months later and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The state removed Miriah and the other children from their mother shortly after Mcenaney was arrested because of the abuse. They stayed with foster parents for about 18 months before finally being allowed to return home.
When they did, some of the Gaddis children then befriended Brian David Daniel, a young man who lived in the apartment complex. Miriah remembers him fondly, saying he would drive them to gatherings with other friends.
But Daniel was also a convicted sex offender, although Mariah said he never abused her or any other family member.
Daniel got involved with a group of methamphetamine dealers and killed a Portland man in the hills above Oregon City in April 2000. He pleaded guilty to the murder in Clackamas County Circuit Count in January 2002, the same month Ashley was reported missing and two months before Miranda disappeared.
After Weaver was arrested, Michelle moved Miriah and her two other remaining children to to Salem, where her ex-husband's sister lived. Her family adopted the children, legally changing their last names to help them start their lives over. They enrolled in a private school and had the opportunity to travel the world, visiting Japan and Hawaii.
But despite the benefits, Miriah said she felt cut off from friends and other relatives in Oregon City. She admits being angry with her mother, whom she blames for exposing her and the other children to sexual predators. Family disputes also erupted over daily schedules, including chores, she said.
Then, in June 2005, Miriah learned that her father had been murdered. Jason Gaddis was shot in the face in downtown Milwaukie. Harold David Shoemaker was arrested and admitted shooting Gaddis during a fight over a mutual girlfriend. Shoemaker pleaded guilty to the killing and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The death started Miriah thinking about everything she had endured, eventually convincing her that she needed to confront her past - beginning with the man who killed her sister.
'I wasn't able to deal with everything that had happened to me, so I pushed it all away,' she said. 'Now that I was older, it was time to face it, so I could move on.'
The murderer next door
Miriah said she did not believe Weaver was the killer when she first heard he was a suspect in the months after her sister disappeared. She had spent a lot of time at his house. Weaver lived at the top of the road into the Newell Creek Apartments, where the Gaddis and Pond families lived. Like Ashley, Miranda and a number of other young girls in the area, Miriah was friends with Weaver's young daughter, Mallori. Many of them thought Weaver was kind and generous.
'When I met his daughter for the first time, it was like he was the coolest,' said a young woman who spent much of the summer of 2002 at the Weaver home. 'He gave us money and told us to get something to eat. Then we said it was hot and he went out and bought us a pool.'
But the children and their parents did not know about Weaver's dark and violent past. His father, Ward Weaver Sr., is a murderer on death row in San Quentin prison in California. He was convicted of murdering a man and woman in 1981, and burying the body in the backyard of his Oroville, Calif., home.
By the time he moved to Oregon City, the younger Weaver had begun preying on women, too. In 1984, he was convicted of spousal battery in California. In 1993, an ex-wife filed for a restraining order, alleging he threatened to have her shot. In 1995, Weaver was charged with second-degree assault for allegedly hitting his then-girlfriend with a cast-iron skillet five or six times. The charge was later dismissed because of evidentiary problems with police seizure of the skillet.
Miriah had not heard any of this when investigators first began warning her to stay away from Weaver. But then Weaver did something almost inexplicable. On Aug. 13, 2002, he assaulted his son's girlfriend in his nearly-empty house. The 19-year-old woman barely escaped, running naked into the street and flagging down a car.
Weaver drove away but was quickly stopped and arrested by an Oregon City police officer. He was lodged in Clackamas County Jail on rape and attempted murder charges.
Ten days later, Oregon City police requested a warrant to search Weaver's property. After a judge approved, a chain-link fence was erected around the property and the search began in earnest. The next day, Miranda's body was found in a cardboard box in a storage shed in the back yard. The day after that, Ashley's body was found under a concrete pad at the back of the house.
Miriah does not remember much about those days. She, her mother and the other two children were sequestered in a hotel near Clackamas Town Center when the bodies were found. When she and Hyne tried to visit the spontaneous memorial, they were mobbed by reporters and left.
Miriah said she was also shielded from most of what followed, including Weaver being charged with kidnapping and murdering the two girls, raping and attempting to kill his son's girlfriend, and raping a 15-year-old girl in his house on July 17. That crime was not reported at the time because the girl was afraid to come forward. The charges were added after investigators learned about it after Weaver was arrested for the Aug. 13 attack.
Weaver pleaded not guilty to the charges, then was sent to the Oregon State Hospital for a mental evaluation. He was determined fit to stand trial.
Just before the trial was set to begin, however, Weaver and his attorneys worked out a deal with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty. On Sept. 22, 2004, he pleaded guilty to seven out of 17 charges that included aggravated murder, sex abuse and abuse of a corpse. He entered no contest pleas to the remaining 10 charges, including the one of July 2002. In exchange, Weaver was sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms with no possibility of parole.
Looking for answers
By then, Miriah, her mother and the other children had moved to Salem. Although she missed her other relatives in the Oregon City area, she lived there for around five years until lingering questions surrounding her sister's death finally began to consume her. She moved back to Oregon City in July 2008, a few weeks before her 18th birthday.
Miriah then began writing to Weaver in the Oregon State Penitentiary, pretending to still be his friend. Weaver wrote back, sending both letters and hand-drawn cards marking such events as Miriah's birthday and Halloween. In his letters, Weaver repeatedly claimed that he was not guilty and promised to tell her the truth if she would visit him.
Miriah said that happened during their second meeting, which took place on Jan. 9 - exactly seven years after Ashley was reported missing. According to Miriah, during the second meeting, Weaver had a wild look in his eyes as he described killing both girls in great detail and moving the bodies around his property to avoid detection. Weaver also told Miriah he probably would have killed her, too, if she was older.
The descriptions, threat and Weaver's apparent delight in telling them were so upsetting, Miriah hung up the phone and kept her eyes averted from him until she was escorted out of the visiting room.
Thinking of Ward's words that night, Miriah said she became severely depressed and suicidal. The answers she sought had opened a door into hell,
'When I got home, I started dwelling on all the things he said,' Miriah remembers. 'Maybe it was the fact that it was the seventh anniversary of Ashley's disappearance, but I couldn't get it out of my mind, and I felt like killing myself.'
But Miriah recovered and committed herself to honoring her sister's memory. She has also begun writing a book about her life to help others understand they can survive even the greatest emotional hardships.
'My goal is to help people understand they can always achieve what they want, if they just keep faith in themselves,' she said.