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Community helps victim's family find closure

KLAMATH FALLS — A group of Klamath County residents who discovered the remains of a murdered St. Helens woman said searching for the victim was nothing less than a moral imperative.

Chiloquin resident Ron Wright, who organized the group of a half-dozen volunteers, said it was as much a responsibility to the community as it was to the victim's family to find the remains of Cheryl Hart.

"It's something we had to do because it was in our community and we couldn't just sit idle," said Wright.

Hart, 35, had been missing since Aug. 4 and was believed to be somewhere in the Chiloquin or Sprague River areas. Wright and his team found Hart's remains Saturday near milemarker 11 on National Forest Service Road 44, north of Sprague River.

Hart's boyfriend, Jeremy Milutin, 36, of St. Helens, was charged with Hart's murder Tuesday and is being held in the Lane County Jail. It is believed the murder took place in Eugene and Milutin drove to Klamath County to hide the body.

Wright said he saw a person matching Milutin's description driving from the Chiloquin area Aug. 5, but didn't realize the significance of the encounter until about a week later when he saw news reports about Hart's disappearance.

"What caught my eye was the dirty vehicle covered in dust, short haircut and the tattoos on his arms," said Wright.

He then began researching information published about the case and made contact with Jaymie Frederick, a private investigator hired by the victim's family. After talking with some friends about the disappearance, Wright decided to put together a search team made of retired law enforcement and military, among other volunteers.

After scouting possible locations in the area, seven volunteers, including Wright, met Saturday morning and began canvasing the area including Sprague River Road and National Forest Service Road 44, near where Milutin was seen driving by other witnesses.

That afternoon they were exploring turnouts on Road 44 when volunteer Jeff Nelson discovered Hart's body partially covered on the ground.

"Got a call on the radio, said, 'We found her,'" said Wright. "I said, 'You're kidding.' "

"Of course, we all had tears in our eyes," he continued. "I said, 'We need to clear the area.'"

The search team waited for the arrival of law enforcement, which began examining the area and interviewing volunteers. Some of Hart's relatives, who were conducting a search nearby, came to the scene and have since placed a memorial where they found the victim.

Wright said he and his fellow volunteers hope Hart's family can start to have closure now that they know what happened the victim, though they still feel sad for her three children who will now grow up without their mother.

A $1,000 reward was offered for information leading to Hart's recovery, but Wright said the search team has no interest in accepting it.

"Even if the reward was $50,000, in our hearts we could not take that money because it's got to go to the kids and that family," he said.

While reflecting on the search for Hart, Wright said it felt like more than just a desire to help and more like a divine force was acting on the volunteers.

"It's almost like this woman was reaching out to individuals saying, 'Find me," said Wright. "All I did was connect the dots."