Law Enforcement

Kelsie Schelling Disappearance and Trial: ABC's 20/20 Special Preview

Family photo/ABC
Laura Saxton, right, in an image from tonight's 20/20 special about the Kelsie Schelling case.
According to ABC, the special two-hour edition of long-running news magazine 20/20 airing tonight, March 26, will feature an "exclusive...first interview with Kelsie Schelling's mother" following the conviction of Donthe Lucas for murdering the Denver woman, who disappeared in early 2013 and still has not been found.

That's not quite right: Laura Saxton spoke movingly and at length with Westword for our March 18 article "Kelsie Schelling's Mom on Murder Trial and Bringing Her Girl Home." But the ABC program promises to provide a national audience with the most detailed account yet of a story that's broken hearts and stirred frustration in Colorado for the better part of a decade.

Schelling vanished on February 4, 2013, after driving from Denver to Pueblo. Ten days later, her car was discovered in the parking lot of a local hospital, and the Pueblo Police Department subsequently released photos showing shots of the car on February 5 and February 6 in a Walmart parking lot; a male could be seen getting into the vehicle and driving it away. That April, Saxton held a press conference during which she revealed that Schelling had gotten confirmation of her pregnancy on the day she went missing; doctor's records confirmed that she was eight weeks along, with the presumed father being Lucas, who played basketball for Northeastern Junior College. According to Saxton, cell-phone records showed that "Donthe asked Kelsie to come to Pueblo when she got off of work that night because he needed to speak with her in person. ... We know that Kelsie made it to Pueblo and did meet up with Donthe. No one has seen or heard from her since."

Despite this new information, little progress was made in the investigation until after an overhaul of the Pueblo Police Department's crimes-against-persons unit and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's entry into the case. The backyard of Lucas's former residence, at 5113 Manor Ridge Drive in Pueblo, was excavated in April 2017; that was followed by another nearby dig and a fire investigated as possible arson — and that December, Lucas was arrested. But a series of postponements and deferrals slowed prosecution to a crawl even before the pandemic. The trial finally got under way this past January, only to be interrupted by a two-week delay over a possible COVID-19 exposure in the courtroom.

On March 8, the case finally went to the jury — which deliberated for under three hours before returning a guilty verdict against Lucas.

In the wake of this decision, Saxton shared her mixed emotions. "Obviously, I'm thankful for the guilty verdict," she said. "If he'd been acquitted, it would have been awful. I'd be feeling worse than I do now. But it's an empty verdict, because it didn't result in bringing Kelsie home."

The continuing mystery of Schelling's whereabouts is a central theme of the 20/20 episode, as seen in this preview.

In the program, correspondent Ryan Smith chats with Lauren Suhr, described as "a prosecution witness who, on her own initiative, decided to get close to Lucas to get more information about Schelling."

Other interview subjects include District Attorney Jeff Chostner, lead investigator Kevin Torres, Pueblo Police Department Captain Eric Bravo and many others.

But Saxton is at the center of the story, and that's appropriate, since her dedication to obtaining justice for her beloved daughter kept the case alive for years; our annual interviews with her prior to Missing Persons Day at the Colorado State Capitol are compelling examples.

In our post-trial conversation with Saxton, she admitted that she doesn't think Lucas is "going to tell where Kelsie is. For one thing, it's his last control over her — to not let her come home. And then, obviously, he has a lot of animosity toward me, and he knows how badly I've always wanted to bring her home. That's the saddest part of this. The whole thing is just bad, but we were more than willing to make a deal with him just to be able to get her back. But he gambled — and he gambled the wrong way."

Her message to other parents or people with missing loved ones is more encouraging: "Keep fighting no matter how much backlash you get. If you're not getting what you feel you should be getting from law enforcement or whatever, you have to keep pushing, because nobody's going to do it for you. I know not everybody has the ability to do that, and I didn't know that I did, either. This whole thing has been quite surprising for me. But it's for Kelsie, and that's how I've been able to keep going — because it's about her."

The episode of 20/20 about Kelsie Schelling airs at 8 p.m. MDT.