By Sanjay Talwani of the Independent Record
HELENA — A 22-year-old resident of the YWCA-Helena in Montana, missing for about a week, was allegedly last seen near Madera on Monday, according to information received by Helena police.
Helena Police Chief Troy McGee said Tuesday a man she was traveling with told the California Highway Patrol on Monday that he had left her outside Madera. CHP found him between Madera and Stockton.
That man, James Alexander Lee, 21, faces charges of holding a person against his will over a drug deal, and some people familiar with Angelica Melody Gray doubt she would leave her young children, her job, her cash, keys and identification and disappear.
The publisher of the Independent Record newspaper (http://helenair.com) contacted The Madera Tribune on Wednesday to solicit information on Gray from Madera residents. Gray is 5-foot-11, 145 pounds, with long brown hair and green eyes.
Gray is on probation related to the growth of hallucinogenic mushrooms by her and her husband in their Helena apartment. A $50,000 warrant has been issued for her for violating the terms of her probation — namely, leaving her children unattended the night of Dec. 11.
McGee said there’s no indication Gray is being held against her will.
Kellie Goodwin McBride, executive director of the YWCA-Helena, said Gray was a devoted mother who worked hard to gain back her children after her drug case, had a good job and took pains to avoid people who may have known her before her drug arrest.
“She would never leave her children,” she said.
She also questioned the credibility of any information coming from Lee. “It doesn’t make sense to me,” she said. “We can’t just take his word for it.”
McGee said Tuesday that Gray was identified on video from late on the night of Dec. 11 heading downhill (east) from the YWCA. Its staff reported her missing the following morning, Dec. 12.
On Thursday, a probation officer signed an affidavit in support of a warrant for Gray’s arrest for violating the terms of her probation.
Late Friday afternoon, the manager of a motel in Drummond, Mont., told police he may have seen her very early the previous Wednesday morning. McGee said the manager reported that Gray had tried to barter for a room at about 2 to 3 a.m., before establishing that she and another person could sleep in their vehicle.
Investigators from the Granite County Sheriff’s Office reported that they saw the pair on video at about 9 a.m. that morning begging for cash at a service station. McGee said they were traveling in Lee’s 2000 Ford Crown Victoria — the same type of vehicle in which Lee held two men against their will Nov. 20, according to a police affidavit.
Police had already placed Gray on a nationwide database of missing people. On Monday, the California Highway Patrol told Helena police that they had located Lee in the Crown Victoria between Madera and Stockton, and he told them he had dropped off Gray.
An order signed Nov. 27 by Justice of the Peace Michael Swingley released Lee without bond on the intimidation and unlawful restraint charges, but prohibited him from leaving Montana without court permission.
Deputy County Attorney Lisa Leckie said in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon that her office had not filed a petition to revoke Lee’s release. At some point, Lee will likely have a court hearing scheduled in Helena on the charges.
Lee was arrested Nov. 20 after police responded to a report of two men being held against their will in the Crown Victoria.
Police believe Lee and another man, Scott Street, had held one of the men in an apartment because they had given him marijuana to sell, but the man claimed the drugs had been stolen and he was unable to pay Lee and Street.
The man eventually fled, but was threatened the next day. His brother agreed to help him get money to pay Lee and Street, and they were with them when their father reported their detention to police, according to the affidavit.
Derek VanLuchene of Helena, the founder of Ryan United, a group dedicated to finding missing persons, said the biggest indicator in such mysteries is the person’s established routine.
“There was no indication that she was planning to just up and leave,” he said, citing the job Gray had recently begun and her apparent devotion to her children. “If everybody around her is saying this isn’t typical, then there’s something wrong.”
VanLuchene and McBride both praised the police for their response to the disappearance, and McGee said Helena officers are still assigned to the case.
But VanLuchene and McBride said they still think the details don’t add up. “She is an adult and she has a right to go away if she wants, but I think there needs to be some assessment of her welfare,” VanLuchene said.
McBride said the new information doesn’t mean Gray is not missing and not in danger. She was unaware of any contacts Gray might have in California.
Gray’s current legal problems began on March 18, when police arrived at her apartment on the 700 block of Sixth Avenue in response to reports of her and her husband, Joshua, having a loud argument.
According to a police affidavit, Joshua had been assaulted a few days earlier and was indicating suicidal thoughts.
Joshua had a gun, and in a struggle with police it went off and shot him in the shoulder; he continued making suicidal statements, according to the affidavit.
A later search of the apartment turned up 15 plastic tubs containing hallucinogenic mushrooms or the materials to grow them, according to the affidavit.
In a plea bargain related to the drugs, Angelica in September received a deferral of sentencing for three years, meaning she would remain on probation for that time and avoid jail if she stayed out of trouble.
McBride said Gray had been living at the YWCA since May and had made an effort to avoid people in her former crowd, some of whom had made attempts to contact her.
“There were a couple of people she was afraid of,” McBride said.
Gray came to the YWCA without her children and worked hard with state Child Protective Services to regain custody.
“We watched her go through the process of getting her kids back,” McBride said. “And she did everything CPS wanted and jumped through every hoop, higher than they asked.”
Gray and the children visit Joshua every Saturday in the jail, McBride said. In September, Gray started a job with Morrison-Maierle, the engineering firm. McBride said Gray was due for a paycheck last Thursday — the day after she was reported missing.