Despite temperatures in the mid to high 30 degrees, the cold weather was the last thought on anyone’s mind who gathered outside the Grays Harbor County Jail in Montesano on Sunday, Jan. 22. For the dozens of people carrying signs or megaphones, the only subject on their mind was Oakley Carlson.
Chants of “Where is Oakley?” “Justice for Oakley” and “Kids don’t just disappear,” among others, permeated the air for blocks as nearly 30 advocates sought information regarding the whereabouts of the missing 6-year-old girl from Oakville. The chants were directed toward Jordan Bowers, the biological mother and prime suspect in the disappearance of her daughter, who is being held in Grays Harbor County Jail on multiple charges of identity theft.
As the crowd shouted for answers, inmates could be heard pounding on the walls in support and yelling that Bowers was on the third floor of the jail. In the middle of the gatherers advocating for Oakley’s location stood Erik Hiles, Oakley’s foster dad, chanting in unison and receiving words of affection from the community members around him.
“I’m always glad to see the support we have, and I really appreciate them coming out anytime we hold these gatherings,” Hiles said. “I’m glad that Jordan is still behind bars because I feel anytime that she would be out it would be just potentially her compromising efforts to find Oakley.”
Although Hiles’ wife, Jamie Jo, was not in attendance for the gathering, he praised the turnout of the event given the chilly conditions and short notice to the community. While this was the ninth public gathering since Oakley was declared missing in December 2021, Hiles described it as hard but necessary.
“It’s never easy, coming here is really uncomfortable but I think we have to do uncomfortable things to make Oakley’s story known,” Hiles said. “Having all the support of the people who are here makes it easier and knowing that we have our whole community behind us really makes it not too difficult.”
Another notable member in attendance for the gathering was 19th District Rep. Jim Walsh, who recently proposed H.B. 1397 aka the “Oakley Carlson Act” earlier this week in the Washington Legislature. Walsh said public gatherings like the one on Sunday are vital and will help keep H.B. 1397 in people’s minds.
“This is direct action, and this is important to continue. I encourage all of Oakley’s angels to keep doing this because, if anything, this will get us the answers we need. Unfortunately, what we can do in Olympia isn’t going to help Oakley Carlson, maybe, but it will help the next kid like Oakley,” Walsh said.
H.B. 1397, which is set for a committee hearing within the next two weeks according to Walsh, would look to “improve the operations and oversight of Washington’s child welfare system.” Walsh said while the bill will be tough to gain full support, there is bipartisan support for the legislation as well as a companion bill, S.B. 5525, that has been introduced by 35th District Sen. Drew MacEwen.
“In Olympia, it’s always going to be a battle because there are people in the Legislature and the government who defend DCYF (Department of Children, Youth, and Families). They say that our attempts at reform of DCYF’s treatment of cases like this are not fair to the agency,” Walsh said. “However, my interest isn’t in the agency, my interest is in what happened to this little girl and how we can prevent the next one from happening.”
While legislators debate passing either of the two bills over the coming weeks and months, a reward fund of more than $85,000 is available for anyone who provides information that leads to Oakley’s whereabouts.