April 7, 2011 in City

Man’s disappearance mystery to family, police

By The Spokesman-Review
JESSE TINSLEY jesset@spokesman.com photo

Michonda Weaver, center, talks about her boyfriend and waits for word of what happened to Leighton Welch, while two of her children Elijah, left, and Zackahriha (cq) have a snack in their South Hill apartment Tuesday, April 6, 2011. Weaver said she was talking to Leighton Welch on the phone a week ago when it sounded like he fell or dropped the phone and that was the last she has heard of him. Two of her three children are his and she can’t conceive of why he would disappear like he has.
(Full-size photo)

The mystery of the man’s disappearance began with what his fiancée described as a bizarre ending to a phone call.

Leighton Welch, 35, was walking in Spokane and talking on his cellphone to Michonda Weaver, his girlfriend of nearly four years. Weaver said he described a steep cliff, then said he’d been spooked by a pit bull in the area.

Then, a crash and a scream before the phone went dead.

That was March 28.

Weaver has not heard from Welch since. No one else has either, she said, and his family is frantic. Weaver knows what people probably think – that the father of two of her young children staged his disappearance.

But why would he leave everything he owned behind, even his car and cigarettes, she asks. Although troubled by a recent child abuse allegation, which Weaver said was unfounded, why would he leave his family with nothing when he was on track to begin his final quarter at Spokane Falls Community College? If he wanted to kill himself, why has no one found his body after 10 days?

Those are all questions Spokane police are trying to answer.

A Spokane police detective was assigned to the case this week and is obtaining phone records and cell tower information that will pinpoint Welch’s location when he made his last call, said Lt. Dave McGovern.

Welch is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and received tribal money for school, Weaver said.

Weaver has stayed home with her children since the birth of their son Achellis six months ago. The family depends on Welch for their $800 monthly rent.

Welch has previous convictions for domestic violence assault and cocaine possession, but staff at Cub House drug rehabilitation, 615 S. Thor St., said he completed a residential program about a year ago and has been a model graduate.

“He came over here a couple times a month,” said Kathy McAteer, house manager. “He was just sailing right along, doing everything he needed to do, really involved with his kids, really excited about going to school. I was really proud of him.”

Welch is studying social work at SFCC. He was to enroll at Eastern Washington University in the fall and plans to be a drug and alcohol counselor, Weaver said. He spoke at drug rehab centers in Spokane and helped lead an Alcoholics Anonymous group, Weaver said.

Weaver confirmed with Welch’s teachers that he didn’t show up for classes Monday. Knowing that, she said, makes it difficult not to fear the worst.

“If he was alive, he’d be at school,” Weaver said. “We just had too much planned out for him to leave.”

Weaver’s sister traveled from Moses Lake to help her search for Welch. They’ve posted fliers throughout the city, contacted old friends and visited drug neighborhoods fearing Welch may have relapsed. But they’ve come up empty each time. No one, including his family in Western Washington, has heard from him.

Welch told Weaver he was near Deaconess Medical Center about five minutes before the call abruptly ended. He’d left the family’s apartment in the 1800 block of West Ninth Avenue about 6:30 p.m., Weaver said. The phone call ended about 7:15 p.m.

“We’ve been to every cliff we can think of, but most of them, you can’t see the bottom,” Weaver said.

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