The Ashland Police Department did everything it could to find two missing women who were later found dead in a vacant house there, its police chief said Thursday.
Family members have accused Chief David Marcelli of not taking missing persons reports on the women seriously, including in a People Magazine piece published Sept. 16 where a family member of slain woman Stacey Stanley said local authorities ignored the woman's disappearance because she had a history of drug use. The article has been shared more than 2,700 times on Facebook.
"We feel like we're taking it on the chin," Marcelli said in his first public comments on the case since a press conference last week. "The idea that Ashland Police knew (Stanley) was missing on Thursday and didn't do anything about it until Sunday is false."
Missing women Stanley and Elizabeth Griffith were found dead in a vacant house on Covert Court Sept. 13 after a woman called 911 from the house saying she had been kidnapped and was being held there against her will. After rescuing the woman, police arrested Shawn M. Grate, 40, charging him with kidnapping and murder. Grate has since made statements to police tying him to three other potential deaths in North Central Ohio.
Marcelli outlined timelines for Stacey and Griffith that indicate police made the disappearances of the women a priority. In the case of Stanley, family filed a missing persons report with the Huron County Sheriff's Office on Sept 10.
"We were not made aware she was missing until her car was found on East Ninth Street on Sunday, we then followed up as best as we could," Marcelli said. Those efforts included knocking on doors in the area where the car was found, along with interviewing individuals in the area who might have helpful information to provide, he said.
A missing person's report was filed on Griffith with the Ashland Police on Sept. 7. She had not been seen by family members for three weeks, Marcelli said.
"Griffith was entered as an endangered missing person because of her history," he said. "She didn't have any criminal history, it was more of a medical issue." Marcelli would not elaborate. Eight of the 24 officers on the Ashland Police force worked to find Griffith, Marcelli said.
While many doors were knocked on, police never knocked on the door of the vacant house on Covert Court, Marcelli said.
Knocking on doors can have positive or negative consequences, he said.
"It's kind of a catch-22 situation," Marcelli said. "If you knock on the wrong door and you're not prepared to enter, it could follow with negative consequences for whoever is in there."
Veronica Stanley, a cousin of Stacey Stanley, said the family began searching in the area of the Covert Court home and another vacant house next door on their own before police began investigating the area.
The family and friends said they believe their persistence in knocking on the door of the home rattled Grate and allowed the abducted woman to call 911 using Grate's cellphone.