Missing Marshall student member of local family

By David Hedges, Publisher

A missing Marshall University student whose body was found in the basement of her apartment building in Huntington has several family members in Roane County.

Leah Hickman was 21.

Her father, Ron Hickman, is a 1972 graduate of Spencer High School. After earning an agricultural degree at West Virginia University, he settled in the Pt. Pleasant area and serves as the Mason County Assessor.

Leah was his only child.

She visited this area often, according to her aunt, Sue Hickman of Scaffold Run.

"She loved to come to Roane County," her aunt said. "She planned to come this past summer to spend a weekend with us. But she went to work, and between that and college, she never had the time."

In addition to attending college, her aunt said Leah worked 25 hours a week at the Dress Barn in Huntington.

Leah's father is one of eight children of the late Bill and Ollie Hickman who lived on Ripley Road.

She has four aunts and uncles still in the Spencer area, including Sue's husband, Robert. Her uncles Roger Hickman and Bernard Hickman also live in Spencer as does an aunt, Betty Watson.

Other aunts include Mary Gandee, also of Pt. Pleasant, and Ann Sacchi of Parkersburg. The youngest of the eight children, Patty Hickman, was killed in a car wreck 20 years ago this month. She was only 24.

Sue Hickman said the family is close, and the recent tragedy has hit all of them hard.

"It's just a nightmare," she said.

She said Leah spent a lot of time visiting family in Roane County over the years.

"We're a very close-knit family. She was just a good person, very loving," her aunt said.

"She was a very sweet girl, very family oriented," her aunt said. "You never heard a bad word out of her mouth."

Hickman graduated from Christ Academy in Pt. Pleasant. While in high school, she played trumpet in the band, was a member of the dance team and performed with the bell choir.

At the time of her death, she was a junior at Marshall, where she majored in broadcast journalism.

Her parents are divorced and she shared an apartment in Huntington with her sister, Jessica Vickers.

The apartment is located in the 400 block of Eighth Avenue.

She came up missing Friday, Dec. 14. She had called a friend shortly before 6 p.m. and said she was planning to eat at McDonald's. That was the last time any friends or family heard from her.

Her sister last saw Leah as she was doing dishes in the apartment they shared. That was during the afternoon of Dec. 14.

Her mother, Sherry Russell of Leon, had called her the night before but was unable to reach her.

Co-workers were worried when she did not show up for work Saturday evening.

"She was always very prompt and dependable," her aunt said. "If she was going to be five minutes late, she would call and tell somebody."

Her mother filed a missing person's report with Huntington police the next day.

Leah's body was found one week after she was last seen. The body was in a crawl space in the basement of her apartment building. The crawl space was connected to a common laundry room.

Police have not identified any suspects.

Sue Hickman said it was a real struggle for the family to get through Christmas.

"We went through the motions, but it's just not the same," she said. "It's not very Christmassy around here."

"Things like this probably happen every day, but when it happens to you it's just hard to understand," her aunt said. "You just wonder why it had to be."

Funeral services are Saturday in St. Marys.