Washington State (NBC) (01/05/21)— Family and friends of Laynee Westbrook are desperate for answers as their search for the 41-year-old Washington woman enters its fourth month.
“It’s been 116 days and we still don’t have answers,” Laynee’s sister-in-law, Emily Pepper, told Dateline. “We have nothing, nothing that could lead us to Laynee.”
Laynee has been missing since September 10, 2020. According to her family, Laynee and her beloved dog, a rat terrier named “Precious,” were seen on security video at 7:11 p.m. leaving the San Juan Motel in Anacortes, Washington, and getting into a white Dodge Ram truck with a man she knew. Laynee, who works at Safeway, had been living at the motel long-term since July, her family said.
She was seen again a short time later, at 7:30 p.m., at the Chevron gas station next to the Swinomish Casino with the same man. Her sister-in-law Emily told Dateline that the man stated that he had picked her up and they went to a nearby campground where he had been staying. He reportedly then dropped Laynee off between 2 and 3 a.m. at Causland Memorial Park, which is about two blocks from the motel.
On September 13, Laynee’s mother, Barb, got a call from the motel. They were trying to reach Laynee because she hadn’t paid rent and no one had seen or heard from her in several days.
“It dawned on Barb that she hadn’t talked to her in a few days, so she started to panic,” Emily said. “She called her, and we all called her, but no one could get a hold of her.”
Laynee’s mother reported her missing to the Anacortes Police Department.
Captain Dave Floyd told Dateline that the case is an open and active investigation and that detectives are sifting through and following up on all tips they receive.
“We received an overwhelming amount of tips early on,” Capt. Floyd said. “That has slowed some, but we’re going through the steps and slowly making progress. We’re always open to tips that may lead to finding Laynee. No matter how big or small… it’s important.”
In the days after Laynee disappeared, her family and friends began their own investigation by piecing together a timeline leading up to her disappearance. Her sister-in-law, along with her childhood best friend, Michelle Hanson, set up search parties, spoke to witnesses and provided information to detectives.
“Campers who were at the campground the night she went missing had called the ranger to report two people arguing over a missing dog,” Emily said. “Something happened that night. She’s missing. Her dog is missing. She never made it back to the motel.”
Captain Floyd told Dateline he couldn’t elaborate on some of the details of what happened on September 10, 2020, but confirmed that there has been no activity on Laynee’s cell phone or her bank account since she used her debit card on the day she was last seen.
“At this point, we don’t have enough information to determine that foul play is a factor in her disappearance,” Capt. Floyd said. “We recognize that the circumstances show that could be a possibility, but we hope that’s not the case.”
Laynee’s brother, Tom, her sister-in-law, Emily, and her best friend, Michelle, who all live in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, continue their search for answers while keeping family members who live in Colorado in the loop.
Stephanie Hess, Laynee’s sister, told Dateline she feels helpless being so far away, but said she won’t stop fighting to find Laynee.
“Our hearts are heavy and our hearts are broken, but we will continue until we bring her home,” Stephanie said. “We just want to find her.”
Stephanie described her sister as being a beautiful person with a bubbly personality and a contagious laugh who loved her friends and family with all of her heart… someone who would never want to see her family in pain.
“Laynee wouldn’t just vanish and not let anybody know,” her best friend Michelle added. “If she needed a break, she would say that. But she would never let us worry like this.”
As birthdays and holidays passed, Laynee’s family began to lose hope.
“She never missed calling her mom to tell her happy birthday,” Emily told Dateline. “But Barb’s birthday came and went on November 19. And no call. She’s devastated. We all are.”
Laynee’s own birthday, her 42nd, is approaching on January 31.
“We would love for her to just show up and want to celebrate her birthday,” Emily said. “But I think we know in our heart of hearts that won’t happen. Even so, we don’t give up.”
Missing person signs with photos of Laynee and her pup “Precious” plaster the small town of Anacortes and surrounding area offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to Laynee’s whereabouts. Her family said they hope it encourages someone who knows something to come forward.
“We just need answers,” Emily said. “We’ve done everything we know to do at this point.”
While they continue to search for Laynee – and hope for a miracle – they keep her memory alive with a candlelight vigil every month on the 10th. The next one is coming up on Sunday.
“Sometimes it feels like her case isn’t important, like no one wants to help,” Emily said. “She’s not a wife. She’s not a mom. But she’s somebody to us. Shouldn’t that be enough?”
Laynee is described as being 5’9” tall, weighs 120 lbs and has medium brown hair and hazel eyes. She was last seen wearing a black shirt, blue jeans and white sandals. Her dog, Precious, is a rat terrier and has a nub tail.
Anyone with information on Laynee’s whereabouts is asked to call Anacortes Police at 360-293-4684 during business hours or the APD tip line 360-299-1985. The case number is 20-A06084.
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