Could Murders Have Been Prevented?

Ward Weaver is to be indicted this week in the murder of Oregon teen-agers Ashley Pond and Miranda Gaddis. The two were kidnapped last winter and their bodies were found a few weeks ago in Weaver's back yard.

As the district attorney focuses on Weaver's guilt, there are some who are looking at police and other officials and wondering whether they could have prevented one - or possibly both- murders. CBS News National Correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports for The Early Show.

When the bodies were unearthed, police had solid evidence against Ward Weaver, but it was slow in coming. Twelve-year-old Ashley Pond had disappeared eight months earlier, walking out of a nearby apartment complex, never to be seen again. Some thought she was a runaway, and with reason. Her dad was in jail after admitting he had molested her.

"She'd certainly been dealt a few pretty rough blows," says her reading teacher Linda Virden.

"I thought she had a lot of problems at home and she wasn't happy and I thought she ran away," says Christy Sloan, Ward Weaver's ex wife.

Neighbors say there were problems between Ashley and her mom as well. She was sometimes locked out of her home. At least once, police were called.

"And then there was the issue of me going over to the home and the girls had been locked out," says Mary Campobosso, Ashley Pond's step mom.

"Child locked out by drunk mother," was recorded on a 911 tape.

With turmoil at home, Ashley turned to other adults, including Ward Weaver.

"This is from Ward: that her mother was always out partying and drinking all the time and Ashley like being over there because she got the attention over there, more as a family type, rather than what she was getting at home," says Sloan.

But soon her refuge turned violent. Ashley accused Ward Weaver of trying to rape her.

"They didn't believe her because this wasn't the first man she had accused of sexual crimes," says Campobosso.

At an elementary school, sixth grader Ashley Pond found someone who believed her, the reading teacher.

"She called me on the fourth of September to tell me that Ward had tried to rape her," says Virden. "One of the saddest things was the fact that, you know, when she called me, it was this kind of defeat in her voice. " Virden got the impression that his ongoing abuse didn't seem that unusual to the girl.

Virden was a rare bright spot in Ashley's life.

"Occasionally, a child comes along that you recognize you somehow are in a position to give a little extra to and, I think for Ashley I became that teacher," says Virden.

Kauffman read Virden's creed with her permission. It says, "One hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in or what kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."

Virden says she tried to do that with Ashley. She reported the attempted rape to Child Protective Services.

"But I never heard back from them," says Virden. She wasn't the only one.

Campobosso says she called the state when she heard there had been an attempted rape and that Weaver's girlfriend said that they were sharing a bed.

When Ashley vanished in January, the same people called police.

Virden says, "The report that I made was not passed on to the Oregon City Police by Child Protective Services. But I did pass it on to the Oregon City Police right after Ashley disappeared. And I was obviously horror struck to discover that they had never received that report, back in September. I repeated all the information again to them within a week of Ashley disappearing. And yet it evidently wasn't considered serious enough for them to take steps to protect other children from this man."

Ward Weaver's house has been torn down now. But neighbors say even after Ashley Pond disappeared, the house was a magnet for teen-age girls.

"I think he encouraged girls to come over and he kind of played this father-figure role, you know, gained their confidence," says Virden.

Among the frequent guests was 13-year-old Miranda Gaddis.

"When Miranda came up missing, that's when I knew something was wrong and I knew deep in my heart that he had something to do with it," says Sloan. "And at that point, I knew that Ashley didn't run away. I knew he had something to do with her, too. It was too coincidental."

Coincidences all around: Both girls lived in the same apartment complex, were on the school dance team, were sexually abused at home and had turned to teacher Linda Virden.

Virden showed Kauffman some of the photos she had taken of the girls.
"This is the only picture of them together," says Virden. "I took it the night they graduated from 6th grade."

It was Miranda's disappearance that convinced police Ashley was not a runaway. For the first time, the FBI got involved.

The investigation was ratcheting up, but six months had passed since the initial charge of Weaver's attempted rape.

Virden made the special effort with Ashley.

"It wasn't enough. It wasn't enough," she says. "But it could have been enough if people had listened to me and to the other people filing reports and that didn't happen. And I truly believe that that cost Ashley her life and Miranda, too. And it, it should never have. It should never have been neglected the way it was because I was one of three people who filed that report.

The Oregon Child Protective Service admitted it was "deficient," especially with regard to "screening these reports and referring them to law enforcement."

Could the lives of Miranda and Ashley have been saved? Campobosso thinks so. She says she did everything she could to lead police to the right place, even putting a sign that said "Dig me up" on a concrete slab behind Weaver's house. That's where Ashley's body was found.

"I think definitely one life could have been saved and very possibly two. You know if they had pursued Ward when he had accusations made against him, perhaps he would have ended up in jail a lot sooner, and this never would have happened," says Campobosso.

"I told them about the alleged sex abuse with Ward, so then if there was no records or anything, somebody should have came back to me and asked me, you know, supposedly what about this sexual abuse that took place? But nobody contacted me. I was the one that called the FBI, I left a message on the tip line," says Sloan.

Ironically it was an unrelated rape charge that finally led police to Ward Weaver, almost a year after Ashley's allegation of rape.

"She was a spunky kid, and if I ever get discouraged about things in my own life, I think of her. Had she lived, I think, she would have made it, she would have made it," says Virden.

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