Her dad's myspace comments are so sad
http://www.myspace.com/helpmefindleahpeebles - Leah's dad
http://www.myspace.com/10989634 - Leah's personal myspace
John Peebles pleaded with his only daughter to make him one promise.
Leah Peebles had moved to Albuquerque seeking a fresh start away from the drug addiction lifestyle that had consumed her in Fort Worth.
"I looked at her and said: 'Please. Please. Whatever you do, if it gets bad, just call us. Don’t ever leave again and not let us know what you’re doing, even if you’re at the worst of the worst,’ " John Peebles said, recounting his goodbye at a New Mexico airport. " 'Just call us and let us know you’re alive.’ "
Although Leah told her father that he’d be better off not knowing, she made him the promise — but only at his insistence.
That was 3 1/2 years ago, the last time John Peebles set eyes on his firstborn.
"I wish I’d never left her. It haunts me every day. That’s been the hardest thing for me to deal with," John Peebles said, pausing to regain his composure. "I could see how scared she was. I wish I hadn’t left her."
Since then, John and his wife, Sharon, have devoted their lives, time and money to finding Leah, now 26, and bringing her back home to Fort Worth.
John Peebles has made roughly a dozen trips to Albuquerque and beyond, searching homeless shelters, truck stops and strip clubs, desperate to find signs of his daughter. The couple expanded their search to the Internet, sharing their painful story on blogs in the hope that someone who has seen Leah will read it.
"People ask me why I keep doing it," John Peebles said. "I talk to a lot of people who have missing children, and they don’t do what I do, but we share a lot of the same fears and the same hopes. I guess the thing that has just always been in my head is the story in the Bible about the lost sheep and the shepherd who left the 99 to go after the one. That’s why I do it."
Sharon Peebles said, "If it were one of our other children, we’d do the same thing."
To search for his daughter, John Peebles uses holidays, vacation time and sick leave from his job manufacturing helicopter rotors at Bell Helicopter. Sharon Peebles, a floral designer at TCU Florist, has accompanied him on two of the trips and their two sons, Phillip and Seth, on another.
The Peebleses say Phillip, 23, and Seth, 18, have gone through different emotional stages in dealing with their sister’s disappearance.
"I think they resent her. They’re angry, either that or they’re just numb," John Peebles said. "They’d just as soon put it all away and not even talk about it anymore or think about it."
It’s a feeling their parents can understand.
"Sometimes for a few hours, I might be angry at her, like, 'Why hasn’t she contacted us?’ " Sharon Peebles said. "But the love overrides that."
A rapid decline
Even in baby pictures, Leah’s smile is eye-catching.
At 1 1/2 — at her grandmother’s insistence — she was entered into her first and only beauty pageant, winning third runner-up in her age division and claiming the title "Ms. Photogenic."
But the childhood innocence that radiated in the blue-eyed blonde’s smile would be short-lived. By the time she was 4, Leah’s parents learned that their only daughter had been molested by a distant relative. They hoped that her young age could erase the ordeal from her memory. But just as she was about to begin high school, Leah was raped by a classmate.
Even though she underwent counseling, the Peebleses say they saw an immediate change in their daughter that grew more noticeable as she worked her way through Carter-Riverside High School. A popular girl and good student who’d been active in cheerleading, drama and the yearbook staff, Leah began to lose interest in such activities by the end of her sophomore year. She dropped out of cheerleading and, by her senior year, was not involved in any extracurricular activities.
"I think she was drinking and smoking pot, maybe doing some pills by her sophomore year, maybe even a little before then," John Peebles said. "She never had a problem with grades up to that point, but by senior year, she was struggling to even graduate."
Sharon Peebles remembers stopping by Carter-Riverside one morning to drop something off and finding the 17-year-old "crashed" on her desk.
"She got up and kind of stumbled into the hallway," Sharon Peebles said. "When I started talking to her, I realized that something was wrong. I checked her out of school and took her to the doctor, who sent us immediately to the emergency room at Cook’s. She had overdosed."
By the time she graduated from high school in 2001, Leah had grown even more erratic — sleeping all day and partying all night. Her weight fluctuated as much as her hairstyles and colors.
Relatives staged an intervention at the restaurant where she worked.
"We said, 'Come outside. We need to talk,’ " John Peebles said. "Of course, she denied everything at first."
But after about 30 minutes, Leah broke down.
"She said, 'I can’t stop,’ " John Peebles said. "I said, 'You can’t stop what?’ And she said, 'I can’t stop heroin.’ . . . She confirmed everything we were fearing."
The Peebleses put Leah in detox at a Fort Worth hospital, then immediately into Fort Worth Teen Challenge, a Christian-based drug and alcohol ministry for women. She stayed at the Teen Challenge center for 21 months, though not always willingly.
As she continued in rehab, Leah entered beauty school with plans of becoming a hairstylist. She finished her studies after returning to live with her parents, quickly finding a job at a salon in Hulen Mall.
But signs that Leah was back on drugs soon emerged. In a periodic search of her room, Sharon found needles and bloody tissues tucked into a purse in the closet.
When the couple would confront her, she would admit that she had used again but insist that she was doing better.
"You want to believe," Sharon Peebles said. "She would go to church with us. She would go to a home group and would talk to people about her problems."
But Leah would also show up at her brother’s football game, stumbling and falling to the concrete because she was so messed-up.
"She’d do meth. She’d do coke. Anything she could shoot, she’d just do it," John Peebles said. "She’d go through periods where she put on a little weight because she was probably doing heroin at the time, and then she’d shoot meth and get skinny."
Run-ins with the law
Twice, Leah was arrested.
In August 2004, Tarrant County sheriff’s deputies were investigating a report of shots fired when they happened upon Leah’s boyfriend firing an assault rifle into a creek bed. Leah, who had been sitting in a car with another woman, was arrested for possession of a controlled substance after she was seen tossing a baggie containing methamphetamine out of the car window.
She was convicted of a state jail felony and sentenced to 30 days in jail.
In March 2006, Leah was stopped for not using her turn signal, and a search of her car uncovered syringes and powder cocaine. This time, Leah was sentenced to 80 days in jail.
Soon, Leah was fired from the salon.
"They didn’t want to," John Peebles said. "They had given her several chances, but she would just take off in the middle of the day, take off on a break saying she was going out for a smoke. But she was actually going out and doing cocaine and might not even show up the rest of the day, just leave clients waiting for her there."
Leah’s parents tried to get her back in rehab. She was against returning to Teen Challenge, but Leah agreed to get help and a new start in Albuquerque, where close family friends Todd and Ashley Warren were eager to take her in.
Leah packed up her Volkswagen, and in May 2006, her father helped her move. They shared their last face-to-face goodbye at the airport, before he flew back home.
Ashley Warren said Leah seemed sad and all too aware of the challenges she would face in reclaiming her life.
"I think she was feeling like a failure and that she failed everyone around her because she continued to move back toward the things that she felt could help momentarily," Warren said. "I really did think she felt more concern for the way she had let down her parents and her family than she did for herself."
'He’s still going’
Two and a half weeks later, John Peebles received a phone call from the Warrens, saying Leah had gone out the night before to hang out with a new friend and had not returned.
"They hadn’t heard from her, other than she left a voice message that said, 'OK. Some things have happened. I’ll call you later.’ But she never did," John Peebles said.
Leah was reported missing to Albuquerque police. From his Fort Worth home, John Peebles tried to learn his daughter’s location by checking her MySpace page, contacting her friends and listening to her voice mail messages. Through her voice mail, he learned that Leah’s car was at a repair shop. A mechanic at the shop said he had seen Leah and helped tow her wrecked car.
He mentioned that Leah’s arms looked bad and that he thought she may be prostituting.
With still no word from his daughter a month later, John Peebles took what would be the first of many trips to Albuquerque to search for her.
In all, he estimates he’s made 11 trips, sometimes accompanied by family members, to Albuquerque, surrounding areas, Phoenix and, most recently, Las Vegas.
America’s Most Wanted, which plans to air a segment about Leah’s disappearance in the coming weeks, accompanied him on the trip to Vegas.
"The reason I’ve gone out so many times looking myself is I just felt no one would look harder than I would. We’ve had some detectives give their time and look, and there’s been a lot of well-wishing people, but people come and go," John Peebles said. "They help you for a while, and that’s fine. . . . But no one can stick with you through the long haul. That’s just the way it is."
Warren, who has since moved to Colorado with her husband, said she believes that John Peebles’ undying efforts to find his daughter exemplify the strength of God’s love.
"John Peebles exhibited what I feel like God feels for all of creation," Warren said, her voice breaking. "And he’s still going."
Suspicion of human trafficking
From his many trips, John Peebles has gleaned that his daughter, going by the street name of Mia, inquired about a job at an Albuquerque strip club not long after she disappeared. Others have told him that Leah was under the control of a pimp known as "A.J."
Peebles was later able to question A.J. after he was arrested in Bakersfield, Calif., for jumping bail and extradited to Albuquerque. A.J. claimed he’d never heard of Leah.
"Certainly if she turns up dead, he ought to be the first suspect," John Peebles said. "I think he’s really the key to finding out more about her."
John Peebles’ snooping had prompted threats against his life. He has become so well-known in parts of Albuquerque that he’s donned disguises and dyed his hair during his searches.
The last credible sighting of his daughter was in fall 2006. John Peebles’ gut tells him that she has fallen victim to human trafficking and may have been sold to another pimp in another city.
A few years ago, he and his wife moved from the Riverside home where Leah grew up and now live in southwest Fort Worth.
They say they refuse to dwell on whether Leah is dead.
"I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to give up," John Peebles said. "I just can’t do it. I just can’t accept that there’s not a possibility that she’s still out there, no matter how bleak it looks."
A father’s anguish
A year after his daughter disappeared, John Peebles turned to the Internet, trying to search beyond what he could physically do himself.
"It was partly due to finances," Peebles said. "We had to take a little break for a while. We’d spent so much money. I thought, I can’t do anything else so I guess I’ll get online and try to network that way and get other people to help us look, keep an eye out for her."
These are excerpts from his blog postings and comments:
June 21, 2007:
I love you with all my heart Sugarplum! Mom and I miss you so badly. . . . I wanted you to know we are searching for you everyday. We will never give up. Come home sweetheart.
Jan. 12, 2008:
Please help us! - Leah’s Grandmother is Dying
If anyone . . . . . . . ANYONE knows where Leah is, please ask her to call her parents. . . . As of Thursday, January 10, 2008, Leah’s grandmother has been given 24-48 hours to live. She is in hospice care, and the family would like your help in passing the word to find Leah and ask her to call home.
Can we also request your help in keeping this message going by passing it on every few hours on your bulletin pages.
Thanks so much for your help and support!
Jan. 16, 2008:
Leah, Your Nee-Naw just passed away at the very hour of your birth 25 years ago today. She loved you so much. I think she waited till this very hour because she loved you so much. I pray you are alive and well sweetheart. Happy Birthday Sugarplum. Please Come Home!"
March 23, 2008:
Honey, I want you to know that I will never give up looking for you. I have no idea if you even look at your page anymore but just in case you do, know that I still love you more than life itself. We all miss you dearly. I also want you to know that you now have a handsome nephew. He reminds me of how beautiful that you were when you were born. You’re still the most beautiful daughter any father could ever have, and I remain as proud of you as I ever have been. You’re perfect just as you are and always will be.
Sept. 7, 2009:
Another holiday without Leah.
Today is the final day of my road trip to look for Leah. I’ve been to Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Las Vegas this time. I was accompanied by America’s Most Wanted for about half of the trip as they filmed some of the things I’ve been doing to look for my precious Leah. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ll go home empty handed again without her.
. . . Leah, I miss you so badly, and please forgive my failures as a father and know that I love you with all my heart, and would give anything to bring you back home where you belong.
How to help
Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Leah Peebles should call the parents at 817-346-9200.