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Justice for Sierah: Investigation into disappearance, death of Fulton Co. woman

An autopsy shows Sierah Joughin died of asphyxiation.
Family and friends passing out flyers to help find Sierah (Source: WTOL)

FULTON COUNTY, OH (WTOL) - Sierah Joughin, 20, went missing in July 2016. Several days later, her remains were found in a shallow grave off County Road 7 in Fulton County.

An autopsy shows she died of asphyxiation by a gag found in her mouth. It also shows she was hog-tied. No evidence of sexual assault was found.

Fulton County man, James Dean Worley, was indicted on 19 counts in the death. Prosecutors are now seeking the death penalty against Worley - a cost that could exceed $1 million.

Police documents released Thursday, July 28, reveal the evidence against Worley.

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, a spokesperson for the Attorney General's office said no other remains have been found on Worley's property but added that the investigation is ongoing.

"DNA is taken from anyone arrested on a felony charge in Ohio," said Jill Del Greco, Public Information Officer for the Attorney General's Office. "The DNA would then be run against all forensic DNA samples already in the CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) database."

The University of Toledo student was last seen Tuesday, July 19, at 6:45 p.m. in the Evergreen School District. She and her boyfriend had been out riding bikes. When the two parted ways, she never made it home.

Around 11 p.m. Sierah's family reported her missing and a search began around 3 a.m. Wednesday, July 20. Sierah's bike was then found in a corn field near County Road 6 and County Road T, about three to four rows in. Friends and family passed out flyers, informing the community of her disappearance.

"My heart's been hurting all day and just an upset stomach. Just, not knowing anything," Sierah Joughin's aunt Carrie Joughin said Wednesday. "We know very little. It's just scary."

"Our goal here is to bring her back home. You know, everyone asks, what do you think? And until we're proven otherwise, we're going to bring her home," said Sheriff Miller Wednesday.

On Thursday, July 21, the search was expanded and spanned from County Road 4 to County Road 8 and Central Avenue up to US 120. A $25,000 reward was also offered in the search by the FBI.

"We continue to search wherever the investigation takes us, and we'll continue to cover all leads," said Agent Jake Hardie Thursday.

On Friday, July 22, the search moved to a barn on County Road 6, about two miles away from where Sierah's bike was found. A press conference was held at 2:15 p.m., where it was released that James Worley, the resident of that home, had been arrested and charged with one count of abduction.

Authorities did not go into detail into what led to the arrest and charge against Worley. As of Friday, they said the two did not seem to have any connection. Still, Sierah had not been found and police continued to search at the barn on CR 6. The $25,000 reward was also increased to $100,000.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine was briefed by investigators. Eight of his agents were on the case as of Friday- something that doesn't normally happen, according to DeWine, who called the case "very much" a top priority for his office.

"My heart goes out to the family. Fran and I have eight children and many grandchildren and to think this could have been one of our kids or one of our grandchildren. It just is a horrible, horrible situations. I can't really even imagine how the parents are dealing with this," said DeWine.

University of Toledo President Dr. Sharon Gaber released this statement regarding Sierah's disappearance Friday:

The thoughts and prayers of The University of Toledo are with the family and friends of Sierah Joughin as authorities continue the search to find her.

Sierah is entering her junior year studying human resource management in the College of Business and Innovation. She has been a student at UT since fall semester 2014 and is a member of Alpha Kappa Psi, the University¹s professional business fraternity. Thank you for helping raise awareness about her disappearance.

Sierah has been missing since Tuesday, July 19 and today authorities made an arrest in the case. We urge you to share any information you may have with the Fulton County Sheriff¹s Office at 419.335.4010 ext. 8.

It is in times like these that our campus community comes together to support each other. Please keep Sierah and her loved ones in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.

Sincerely,

Sharon L. Gaber, PhD
President

Other assisting law enforcement agencies included the Lenawee County Sheriff's Office, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, Ohio State Highway Patrol and Michigan State Police.

Sierah's body was found in the afternoon Friday in a shallow grave just miles from Worley's home.

On Wednesday July 27, James Worley was officially charged with aggravated murder and kidnapping in the death of Sierah Joughin. Police revealed evidence against Worley that included duct tape with Sierah's DNA on it the next day.

Sierah's funeral was held in Sylvania on July 29. Community bike rides like Take Back the Roads were inspired in support of Sierah. A request was made by the family to grieve privately which caused the cancellation of at least one planned display of a group wishing to line the route to the cemetery holding green and yellow balloons.

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, the Ohio Attorney General's office issued a statement that said no other remains were found on Worley's property.

An autopsy report was released Aug. 10 showing Sierah died of asphyxiation.

A Justice for Sierah Facebook page was set up, as well as a GoFundMe page in Sierah's name. #BringSierahHome. As of August 10, over $40,000 was raised. The amount continues to grow.