SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The announcement that authorities are holding a person of interest in the case of four women found dead this year around Portland has mothers of the victims hoping they may finally get answers about what happened to their daughters.
One of the victims was Charity Lynn Perry, 24, whose body was discovered April 24 in a state park along the Columbia River Gorge. Her mother, Diana Allen, said Tuesday that she learned the news about the person of interest from traditional and social media, although she is in communication with a detective on the case.
“I’m in the dark about a lot,” Allen told The Associated Press. “But the detective and I understand why this is required. We don’t need anything messing up this investigation.”
Allen said she knows Perry died in April, but she has not been given an exact date and authorities were unable to tell how she died just from looking at her. The state medical examiner has not determined the cause or manner of death for Perry or the other women, prosecutors said in a statement.
“This hurts so bad. My daughter had such bad mental health issues, and any hope of her getting better is gone. It’s gone now, and a horrid ache replaced it,” Allen said.
But she took some heart after authorities announced Monday that the four deaths were linked. They also said at the time that there was at least one person of interest. The news the following day that the person was in custody was further cause for the mothers to be optimistic about a potential break in the cases.
“I’m just really hoping that this is it. I don’t know — I guess I’m still kind of in shock by it all, but I’m just hoping that we got him,” Melissa Smith, the mother of 22-year-old Kristin Smith, was quoted as saying by KATU-TV.
Kristin Smith, who sometimes used the last name Reedus, was reported missing in December. Her body was found in a wooded area in a suburb south of Portland two months later.
No parent should have to accept that their “child was killed and in a very disturbing, morbid, traumatizing way,” Melissa Smith said, according to a GoFundMe page created in May.
Jesse Lee Calhoun, 38, is being held in a state prison after Gov. Tina Kotek reinstated a sentence that was commuted by her predecessor, according to a law enforcement official who has knowledge of the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly on the case.
The official confirmed that Calhoun is a person of interest in the deaths of Perry and Smith, as well as Bridget Leann Webster, 31, and Ashley Real, 22
Officials have not released any information about how the four women died or why Calhoun is considered a person of interest, and he has not been charged. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s office did say Monday in a statement that investigators had “interviewed multiple people” and it was not believed that there was any active danger to the public.
Calhoun did not immediately respond to an email sent through the Snake River Correctional Institution’s inmate communication system, and Scott Leonard, a court-appointed attorney for Calhoun in a previous case, said he no longer represents him and had no comment.
Calhoun was serving time for a 2019 conviction on stolen vehicle and burglary charges when then-Gov. Kate Brown commuted his sentence along with those of 40 other prisoners in 2021. As prisoners they had helped fight wildfires, and the commutations came after Brown determined they did not present unacceptable safety risks to the public.
About a year was shaved off the sentence of Calhoun, who otherwise likely would have been released in summer 2022, months before the women went missing.
“I am absolutely horrified for the victims, their families, and all those who have experienced these losses,” Brown said in a statement emailed Tuesday to AP.
Late last month, Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Todd Jackson wrote to Kotek’s office asking that Calhoun be returned to prison to serve the rest of his sentence.
“Since his release from custody pursuant to this commutation, Mr. Calhoun has been involved in criminal activity currently under investigation by Oregon law enforcement,” Jackson said in the June 30 letter. “In light of this, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office and Multnomah County Department of Community Justice recommends Mr. Calhoun’s commutation be revoked.”
Kotek agreed, and Calhoun was taken to prison July 7.
Webster’s body was found April 30 in Polk County, and the sheriff’s office said at the time that her death was suspicious. Her mother, Darcie Byers-Ramsey, made a plea that month for anyone with information on the case to call detectives.
“They aren’t looking to bust anyone if you have warrants or partake in drugs etc. We do not care about that. We just want answers,” she wrote on Facebook. “Please help my boys, my family and I to get closure.”
In mid-June she held a celebration of life for her daughter in Oregon City and encouraged those attending to wear something yellow or with butterflies in her honor.
Real was last seen at a fast-food restaurant in Portland on March 27 and was reported missing April 4. Her body was found May 7 in a forest in Clackamas County by a man who was fishing in a nearby pond.
Messages left with a cousin of Real were not immediately returned.
Baumann reported from Bellingham, Washington. Associated Press writers Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.