By Erica Morse
Editor-in-Chief, Victims News Online
Updated 11:00 p.m., August 23, 2013
(VNO) — It was 20 years ago this past March when 16-year-old Rayna Rison vanished after finishing her shift at a local animal hospital in LaPorte, Indiana. Her parents reported her missing when she did not return home that evening, and search efforts for the missing teen began immediately.
Rayna’s 1994 Ford LTD was found later that evening, abandoned miles from the animal hospital, with its hood up and no apparent car trouble; one month later, Rayna was found dead in a pond off a rural county road. The cause of death was ruled a homicide by asphyxia.
While her murder has gone unsolved for the last two decades, Rayna has never been forgotten by her family, friends, community and law enforcement, as confirmed by an unexpected announcement made this morning, more than two decades after her death.
The LaPorte, IN, Police Department announced Friday the arrest of Rayna Rison’s former boyfriend, 38-year-old Jason Tibbs. The arrest came as a result of a five-year-long re-investigation into Rison’s disappearance and death. New details obtained during the re-investigation led to a probable cause affidavit filed Thursday in LaPorte County Circuit Court by Prosecuting Attorney Bob Szyilagy, resulting in a warrant for Tibbs’ arrest.
Tibbs and Ryson were not dating at the time of her disappearance — but had previously dated — and reportedly remained friends until her death. It is alleged that Tibbs killed Rayna because she would not re-kindle their relationship.
Prosecuting Attorney Szyilagy told Victims News Online the new information came “from a jailed individual who wanted to make a statement to the police.” According to his probable cause affidavit, an inmate from the Wabash Correctional Facility in east central Indiana asked to speak with investigators regarding Rayna’s death in 2008.
Investigators traveled to Wabash and met with inmate Rickey Hammons, who provided them with specific details surrounding the night of Rayna’s disappearance and death, breaking the case wide open; for Rickey Hammons not only had information regarding Rayna’s murder, but claimed to have seen her being pulled from the trunk of a car by two males the evening of her disappearance.
Rickey Hammons, who was 14 years’ old at the time of Rayna’s death, claims to have been inside a pole barn hiding behind a stack of hay, smoking marijuana, when Tibbs and a male friend drove into the barn and pulled Rison’s body from the trunk of a car.
Those two males identified by Hammons to police were Rayna Rison’s former boyfriend, Jason Tibbs, and his friend, Eric Freeman.
When confronted by police in June 2013, Freeman reportedly provided details of Rayna Rison’s death, signed a sworn confession, cut a deal with prosecutors, and is receiving immunity in exchange for his testimony against Tibbs.
The 18-page affidavit submitted by the Prosecuting Attorney provides a detailed description of the events leading up to Rison’s disappearance and death:
- Authorities assert Jason Tibbs and Eric Freeman met up with Rayna Rison on the evening of March 26, 1993, as she was finishing her shift at Pine Lake Animal Hospital in LaPorte.
- Rison was reportedly alone at the facility when Tibbs and Freeman arrived.
- The teens reportedly spoke in the parking lot of the animal clinic, according to witnesses driving by the facility.
- Tibbs and Rison then reportedly got into a gray or silver Buick Centry driven by Freeman, where Tibbs and Rison began to argue.
- Freeman claims that, after pulling the vehicle over, Tibbs and Rison got out, continued to argue, and Tibbs eventually strangled her.
- Freeman confessed to assisting Tibbs in moving and disposing of Rayna’s body in an area pond, and authorities say his information matches details never released to the public.
In what some worried was a case which may never be solved, today’s arrest comes as a complete shock to Rayna’s friends; some are struggling to accept knowing who stands accused. The fact that it was a peer is difficult to absorb, and knowing that others had information for the last 20 years and said nothing is even more devastating.
I had hoped that once we knew what happened to Rayna, we would find some sense of closure and peace”, said Christine Salzer, a friend and former classmate of Rison’s. “But after reading today’s affidavit, it was like a walk through my high school yearbook, and it’s been more of an unsettling — and bewildering — ride on a merry-go-round than I expected. I’m hoping that peace will come in the days to come, but today is not that day.”
Still, the news of an arrest provides hope that someone will now pay for what was done to Rayna on that March evening more than two decades ago.
News of Tibbs’ arrest spread like wildfire throughout the small community, as many rejoiced at the news that Rayna may finally receive her justice. However, in addition to the anticipation was also confusion by some; for, while most cases seem to have too few persons of interest, this one seemed to have — at least for a while — too many. And it was partly due to those other persons that an arrest is 20 years’ in the making.
Rayna’s brother-in-law, Ray McCarty, was indicted by a Grand Jury for her murder in 1998, but the charges were eventually dismissed by the then-District Attorney. McCarty, who is married to Rayna’s sister, pled “guilty” to sexually assaulting Rayna in 1990, and remained a person of interest in her case until the investigation changed directions. In 1998, Tibbs even pointed the finger at McCarty as a possible suspect during an interview with police, claiming Rayna told him that Ray McCarty was “still raping” her.
However, the affidavit submitted Thursday by Prosecutor Szilagy states,
At no time has any witness presented direct evidence that Raymond McCarty was involved in the disappearance and murder of Rayna Rison, nor has anyone come forward with any admissions by Raymond McCarty that he was involved in the disappearance or murder of Rayna Rison”.
Rayna’s family has strongly asserted McCarty’s innocence since day one. Rayna’s sister, Wendy, told Victims News Online in a 2012 interview that she would not consider any possible theory regarding her sister’s death that included Ray McCarty.
In addition to McCarty, another name has cropped up several times over the years, adding even more mystery to Rayna’s death. That name is Larry Hall.
Larry DeWayne Hall is a confessed serial killer currently serving life in prison, without the possibility of parole. Hall admitted to killing four teenage girls around the same age as Rison during the same timeframe of her disappearance, who have remarkable similarities to her. He is suspected in 54 abductions and/or killings of teenage females from 1981 through his arrest in 1994, throughout the Midwest.
Members of the Radnor University Department of Psychology in Radnor, Virginia, have researched and developed an on-going study about Larry DeWayne Hall, and his potential victims. Dozens of possible victims are listed — many from the Midwest — and almost all fitting the general description of Rayna Rison.
The authors of that study included Rayna Rison’s name on the list of potential victims.
The reason? Their research alleges that, in 1994, authorities searched Larry Hall’s possessions and found a bottle of birth control pills with the name, “R. Rison” on the label.
However, when asked about McCarty and Hall following today’s arrests, Prosecuting Attorney Szilagy claimed not to know anything about Hall, and that, “Obviously based on the evidence we have it doesn’t involve mccarthy (sic)”.
During his initial hearing Friday morning, Tibbs entered a preliminary plea of “not guilty”, and requested bond, which was denied by Judge Thomas Alevizos. An attorney hearing has been set for September 13, 2013, with a pre-trial hearing scheduled for October 18, 2013.
Still, for those who have been waiting two decades for justice for Rayna, Friday’s arrest brings mixed emotions.
“Rayna was taken from us in the prime of her life, so I don’t really think there ever is justice,” Christine Salzer said. “The best I can hope for is whomever killed her is not able to do it again and is held responsible for what they did; but I don’t know that there will ever be a sense of justice for something that is so unfair. Children should never be taken from their mothers”.
The entire affidavit may be viewed here.