Lindsey Rice-Meilicke's 4-year-old daughter carefully wraps a blanket around her dolly. The bright pink blanket was a gift of love from Amari's grandmother — the woman whose remains were discovered Saturday by a miner working in the remote hills outside Central Point.
"My mother crocheted that for her before she was born," Rice-Meilicke said. "My brother has a little girl who has one, too."
Rachel Rice, a 46-year-old diagnosed schizophrenic, was last seen walking barefoot on Old Stage Road on Aug. 2, 2005. Rice was a lifelong Rogue Valley resident who frequently ran away from foster care homes and family members during her nearly 20-year battle with mental illness.
"It was the hottest part of the summer," Rice-Meilicke said. "She wouldn't have had shoes. She had just come from the dentist. She would have been in pain."
On Saturday, a miner reported finding what he thought were human remains in a remote area that only could be hiked into from the 3000 block of Old Military Road. Authorities went to survey the scene and collect the remains on Sunday.
A deputy medical examiner was able to confirm Rice's identity through dental records. A formal autopsy is scheduled for today.
Rice-Meilicke, who was 25 when her mother went missing, knew the remains were her mother's as soon as the media began reporting the find, she said.
"I called the detective on the case," said Rice-Meilicke, now 32. "I knew it was her. I felt like I knew I wasn't going to see her ever again a few days after she ran away. My grieving process has been different. I know she's in a better place. She's not scared anymore."
But Rice-Meilicke, who was just 7 years old when her mother fell prey to schizophrenia, is not at peace with the plight of the mentally ill, or with the failing mental health system.
"It has a stigma and it's treated differently," she said. "It definitely deserves more attention and funding."
More funding, more treatment options, more compassion and more justice for those who struggle — including community support for a Jackson County mental health court, she said.
"Everyone struggles when someone has a mental illness and it's not stabilized," Rice-Meilicke said. "The courts have proven to be helpful in other counties and save taxpayers money. And proper mental health care has been lacking for so long."
A day before disappearing into the woods, Rachel Rice had her four front teeth pulled by a Medford dentist. She had spent the night trying to remove them herself with a hammer because she was hearing voices in her apartment and thought her crowns might have tracking devices.
"I think I did something stupid," Rachel told her daughter that day, Rice-Meilicke said.
"My mom was an honor student in high school," she said. "She was smart. She just was sick. She was a loving, good mother."
Before her disappearance, Rachel Rice had been attempting to live on her own for the first time in almost 10 years. After Rice was denied a place in the local foster care system, her daughter moved her to a Medford apartment near Jackson County's mental health offices and a grocery store. Rice was expected to manage her own medication — more than a dozen prescriptions in four or five daily doses, her daughter said.
For five months, Rice struggled to live on her own among the rest of society. Numerous times, she called 911 hysterical, her daughter said. Medical records show Rice sought treatment at local emergency rooms half a dozen times in the space of one month.
Rice-Meilicke said she knew the situation spelled danger and heartache for herself and her mother. But they had run out of options. None of the county's foster homes would agree to take Rice in. Her tendency toward running away and reluctance to take medication were blamed, Rice-Meilicke said.
Rice-Meilicke said her mother's condition was exacerbated after she received too much lithium at one of the foster homes. She ended up in an intensive care unit on dialysis. The experience, along with her mental illness, made it virtually impossible to keep her mother properly medicated because she believed she could not trust anyone, Rice-Meilicke said.
"She thought they were trying to kill her," Rice-Meilicke said.
Her mother would often try to run from her demons and her illness. She would walk as far as to Rogue River from Medford, usually without shoes, money or identification. Believing pursuers could track her through personal belongings, Rice threw away her purse, jewelry and glasses.
The incidents were getting more frequent. And more intense, Rice-Meilicke said.
Yet never more than four days passed before Rice-Meilicke would receive a phone call from her mother. When her mother was back on her medication, they would even laugh about the crazy things she would do when off on one of her walks, Rice-Meilicke said.
On the day she disappeared, still biting on a towel, Rice made her way to a friend's childhood home off Old Military Road. The friend gave Rice shoes, a straw hat, a clean shirt, a bottle of water and some chocolate.
Rice refused a ride to her father's home several miles away on Snowy Butte Lane and continued walking. The friend called Rice's father, Art Decker, but got no answer. Minutes later, the friend drove the route Rice should have taken, but Rice had melted into the landscape.
Sheriff's deputies searched the area but turned up no sign of Rice. Until they retrieved her remains on Sunday, Rice-Meilicke said.
"I'm grateful to the miner. I'm glad someone found her," Rice-Meilicke said. "So many families never get any closure."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.