The mother of an 18-year-old pregnant woman killed one year ago by a man she met through a Craigslist adthinks that if their tragic story saves at least one family from a similar experience, the young woman will not have died in vain.
Deb Hotchkiss never experienced a heartache as profound as losing her daughter, Brooke Slocum, who was killed along with her boyfriend, 25-year-old Charles Oppenneer, and their unborn child, Audi. Their accused killer, Brady Oestrike, took his own life.
Through tragedy, a grieving Hotchkiss and her family were motivated to learn about human trafficking and how easily a person can be pulled into a dark world they were blinded to before Slocum’s death. They’ve advocated for teen Internet safety and have sought to educate the community about human trafficking.
Police said emails showed Slocum, of Saranac, communicated with Oestrike, 31, through an ad on Craigslist and they agreed to meet for sex in Wyoming’s Gezon Park late July 12, apparently while Oppenneer watched.
Rod Knepper, Slocum’s great uncle, said it’s hard to hear people summarize the situation as a meeting for sex that turned bad.
“It doesn’t show or even infer the trafficking part of what was going on,” Knepper said. “That’s what happened to our Brooke, she was sucked into that world.”
Police said Oppenneer was decapitated in Gezon Park, where officers found his body July 16, 2014, after locating his vehicle abandoned nearby. His head has not been recovered, and a pathologist listed Oppenneer’s death as “homicide by unspecified means.”
Using information from Slocum’s computer, police set up tactical teams within view of Oestrike’s residence on Taft Avenue SW as they prepared search warrants July 17, 2014.
Oestrike left his home that evening and as police pursued he fled before shooting and killing himself after he crashed his car at Burton Street and U.S. 131. Slocum, a victim of ligature strangulation, was found in the trunk of his car.
Wyoming police say they continue to perform a comprehensive review of the case.
The FBI was brought in to aid the investigation and look into whether Oestrike’s online activity included any other potential victims, as he worked as a lineman and had traveled out of state. The FBI’s work on the case is complete.
In Oestrike’s home, police recovered hundreds of items of evidence including restraints, knives, firearms, ammunition, computers and hard drives. At the time, Wyoming Police Chief James Carmody said investigators worked though a “hellish environment” when collecting evidence. Police will never forget some of the grisly scenes, Capt. Kim Koster said last year.
Relatives said they’ve been told that they won’t receive further details until police close the case.
It’s tough to be patient, Hotchkiss said, but she and her family respect that police have a job to do. They have questions they feel they need the answers to but don’t necessarily want to know.
Knepper said young people need to know there are predators online who are good at what they do.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” he said.
Hotchkiss wants parents to know it only takes one conversation for a person to fall victim to human trafficking.
“Parents need to be observant of their children on the Internet talking to strangers and people they just met online, because that person on the other end can be anybody,” she said.
Slocum’s father, Greg Slocum, who is remarried, said he urged his daughter to take precautions after learning that she was meeting males online. He could not stop the 18-year-old, who was trusting and wanted to see the best in others, he said.
Over the past year, faith, family bonds and community support kept Hotchkiss moving forward.
Fundraiser donations remaining after funeral expenses allowed the family to donate to community libraries, a scholarship fund in Slocum’s name and the Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Women At Risk, International.
In Hotchkiss’ yard, a memory garden and red maple tree — like the one Slocum used to love to climb — are peaceful symbols. She remembers her daughter as creative and compassionate.
Slocum looked forward to becoming a mother.
“I told her about unconditional love between a mother and a child. She was so looking forward to that,” Hotchkiss said.
Source: Michigan Live