April 16, 2014

Woman found dead in Rock Hill creek loved the woods, was supposed to move in with neighbor

The woman found dead Tuesday in a creek behind a Rock Hill shopping plaza was supposed to move in with a neighbor across the street on Monday, the day her family reported her missing.

Laurie O’Berry – a jewelry-maker who often rode her bicycle and enjoyed walks in the woods – was supposed to pack her bags on Monday and move in with a neighbor across the street. On Tuesday, police found O’Berry’s body lying in a creek behind a Rock Hill shopping center.

Authorities say they don’t suspect foul play in O’Berry’s death. Her body was discovered Tuesday afternoon in the woods behind the Honey Baked Ham Co. cafe at The Market on North Cherry Road after police followed up on a missing person’s report from a day earlier. She was 52.

York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said O’Berry’s death is under investigation. Autopsy results were not available Wednesday. O’Berry did not suffer from any “traumatic injuries,” said Gast, adding that her office is treating the death as suspicious because O’Berry was found in the woods.

Police are interviewing witnesses who often saw O’Berry park her bike at the shopping center’s Subway, said Mark Bollinger, Rock Hill Police spokesman.

O’Berry’s sister, Cassie Walker, told police Monday she last saw her sibling at her Ellen Avenue home on Friday, according to a Rock Hill Police report. O’Berry was scheduled to move across the street with her neighbor, but did not show up when it was time to move, the report states. A young boy in the neighborhood told the sister that he last saw O’Berry’s bicycle behind the Subway restaurant on Cherry Road.

Walker said she and her son found the bike at Subway and called police. Walker told The Herald that an officer did not search Monday for O’Berry, telling her family that because O’Berry was 52, lived by herself and was able to talk on the phone, looking for her was not necessary.

Police said they searched the area on Monday night, but did not go into the woods because it was too dark and they had no reason to believe O'Berry was there since it's possible she walked away. Walker believes officers could have used a flashlight.

Officers returned Tuesday and, according to Bollinger, laid out a search pattern that included rifling through garbage bins, checking cars in the parking lot and moving deeper into the woods behind the shopping center. They found O’Berry in the creek below an asphalt culvert drainage pipe.

A manager at Honey Baked Ham Co. declined to comment. The manager of the nearby Subway restaurant also declined to comment, referring The Herald to Subway’s corporate Rock Hill office, Houston Enterprises. Employees there declined to comment.

Neighbor Rhene Erwin said she last saw O’Berry on Saturday morning when they walked to a yard sale. O’Berry had recently finished making a handmade bracelet that she gave to another neighbor’s daughter.

“She was a sweet lady,” Erwin said.

O’Berry had just moved to Ellen Avenue from Lesslie a month ago, Erwin said. She rented a room in a house, but planned to move out when her landlord sold the property. Erwin said she and her husband agreed to allow O’Berry to live with them. Her move-in date was Monday.

“We even cleared out a room” for O’Berry, Erwin said. When she learned O’Berry was missing, Erwin said, “I hoped they would find her alive.”

While police don’t believe foul play is a factor in O’Berry’s death, Erwin is skeptical. She feels something must have gone “awry” when O’Berry parked her bike. ”It’s a sad...weird situation,” she said. “It ... just scares me.”

O’Berry is survived by four children – two of whom live in Georgia – and four grandchildren.

O’Berry lived a “very hard life,” said her daughter, Caroline Collier. She suffered from third-degree burns on her legs, had just recently been released from a burn center and was born without a right hand.

“She was a wonderful woman...everybody loved her,” Collier said. “She’ll be greatly missed.”

Another daughter, Cayla Pierce, said her mother was “very creative” and fashioned the beaded bracelet she wore around her wrist. Collier said her mother enjoyed walks in the woods and often took her daughters along with her. She told them she wanted her ashes to be scattered in nature.

“She died next to a beautiful creek ... very serene ... quiet,” Collier said. “They think she went peacefully ... I’m at peace.”

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