OAKVILLE, Wash. (NewsNation Now) — A 5-year-old Washington state girl has been missing since last February after the state ordered that she be returned to her biological parents. Those parents are currently behind bars in Montesano.
Jamie Jo Hiles was Oakley Carlson’s foster mother. She and her husband Eric had Oakley with them from the age of 7 months until just before her third birthday.
“It was just such a good bond,” said Hiles. “Like the three of us: my husband, myself and Oakley. We were such, I felt like, we were just such a good family. Like we felt like a nuclear family.”
Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Schrader said Oakley’s biological parents, Jordan Bowers and Andrew Carlson, are currently in jail on charges of reckless abandonment of a dependent child and reckless endangerment with drugs.
Schrader is part of a team of investigators searching for Oakley and looking into what happened to her.
“We were first aware of it in December of 2021 when a family friend contacted us and they were concerned,” he said. “They’ve been to the location several times and had not seen Oakley but have seen the other siblings that were there.”
This was after a house fire in November of 2021 at the home where Oakley lived with her biological parents and her three siblings in Oakville, Washington. It was then that Oakville school principal Jessica Swift noticed something was amiss.
“Jordan had let us know that there was a fire so I had gone out to check on them and offer support and drop off supplies from the school right after the fire,” said Swift. “I saw all the other kids running around and playing and I didn’t see Oakley and I thought it was a little odd. I asked where she was and they told me that she was in her room in time out.”
A few weeks later, Swift visited again, and still no sign of the little girl. It was only when one of Oakley’s siblings, who was a friend of Swift’s daughter, was at the Swift house for a playdate that the principal’s concerns drove her to action.
“On a playdate with my daughter and Oakley’s sister, I asked questions about Oakley,” said Swift. “And it came out over the course of those questions that Oakley wasn’t living with them anymore. I can’t describe the feeling I had at that moment, sitting on that couch with that little girl when she said that.”
The December interaction was when Swift knew it was time to escalate things.
“I immediately contacted Grays Harbor sheriffs and got the ball rolling that way and that’s how this all came to light,” said Swift.
“We processed the house and interviewed the children that were there at the house, and none of them had seen Oakley,” said Schrader. “It had been some time since she had been seen. Now, they’re young children, and they can’t answer you directly, but it led us to believe that Oakley wasn’t even there at the time of the fire. And it had been months prior to that that any of the children had even seen her.”
Investigators saw other signs that Oakley had not been at the house.
“We did not notice any bedroom set up for Oakley downstairs where everybody else had bedrooms set up,” said Schrader.
On top of that, Schrader said they saw no clothing belonging to Oakley. The family had moved to a hotel in nearby Tumwater but they were back and forth to the house — another red flag, according to Schrader.
“It was their vehicle that they left the Tumwater hotel with, and then traveled back down to Oakville, had one car seat in it,” said Schrader. “And there was a 2-year-old sibling as well as a 6-year-old sibling of Oakley that would have been in the car at that time. So that right there, that’s a clue that something’s wrong.”
To foster mom Jamie Jo Hiles, the revelation that Oakley was missing was a compounding heartbreak forcing her to relive the day the smiling girl was taken from the safety of her foster home, the last day she ever saw her.
“The driver picked her up at 10 o’clock. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried so hard in my life,” said Hiles. “And of course, she’s happy because she gets to see her sister. So she’s very excited, but she’s also kind of confused.”
Hiles said she is angry because it did not have to go this way.
“I’m very angry at our social worker and at the state of Washington,” she said. “Why have I reached out to people in government and haven’t heard back yet?”
But mostly she thinks about how it could have been different.
“I think about the abuse that happened,” she said. “Like hearing from the police reports about Oakley being starved, or that she was beaten with a belt, or that she was locked in a cabinet. That’s the stuff I think about before I go to sleep. Because if Oakley would have stayed in my care, that would never have happened to her, ever.”
Schrader remains optimistic that answers are in store and is hopeful that Oakley will be found alive.
“I think we’ll come to a closure on this case. I’m hopeful that Oakley is found and she’s found alive,” he said. But there are pieces inside of me that think that that might not be a reality — just given the investigation.”
What sustains the Hiles is that whatever may have happened to Oakley for half of her still-short life, they showed her what love was.
“I hope that when she was scared, when she was locked in a cabinet, or when she was afraid about something, I hope that she remembered that she had us,” said Hiles.