Questions remain 6 months after Rainier teen's death
Six months ago, on March 13, the body of 18-year-old Sarah Zuber was discovered on the side of the road near her home.
The death of Zuber, just months away from starting college at a Portland university, came as a shock.
Six months later, the investigation into her death has made little public progress.
As the investigation proceeds behind the scenes, Zuber's family is hoping for answers.
"Nothing makes sense with this thing. Nothing makes sense," Randy Zuber, Sarah's father, told the Spotlight last week.
On Friday, Sept. 13, the Columbia County Sheriff's Office issued a press release seeking to enlist the public's help with any information about Sarah Zuber or the events leading up to her death.
"Our office is asking the public for assistance in this investigation," stated Sheriff Brian Pixley in the release. "If you have information about Sarah or the events leading up to her death, please call us immediately," he added.
Just after noon on March 13, the Sheriff's Office received a report of a body on the side of Neer City Road outside Rainier. The following day, law enforcement released the identity and said the cause of death was still under investigation.
Zuber's body was found by one of her two sisters and displayed no obvious cause of death.
A press release at the time said investigators believed the "incident" that led to Zuber's death happened sometime between late night on March 12 and early morning on March 13.
The Sheriff's Office has not issued any public updates prior to the publication of this story on Friday, Sept. 13.
Randy Zuber said his family had received little communication from law enforcement and the county's victim advocate, only corresponding every few months. "It's just confusing. I didn't know that this is how it was going to work," Randy Zuber said.
"It's coming up on six months from when this happened — I guess they call it an 'incident' — and anyway, I don't see anything in the papers or anything," Randy Zuber said. "Anything out in the public is better than nothing, I think."
In a phone call on March 14, Pixley said there was no public safety concern regarding Zuber's death.
"Other than saying that this case is a high priority for us, as of yet there is no information we can release," Pixley said in March. "We're trying to be careful with what information we release, we want to get the best information out there."
An autopsy was performed soon after Zuber's death, but Pixley said this week that the autopsy "created more questions than answers." Pixley declined to release more information about the autopsy results, citing the ongoing investigation.
Law enforcement officials are investigating the case as "an unsolved death," Pixley said, rather than a homicide, accident, or otherwise.
In the months since, Pixley and Columbia County District Attorney Jeff Auxier have both declined to release more information on the ongoing investigation, but said they are having frequent meetings with investigators.
Pixley said he met with Auxier and the Oregon State Police last week, and most recently spoke to spoke to Rebecca Zuber, Sarah's mom, on Tuesday. Investigators put together a checklist of what
they will accomplish in the next two weeks, Pixley explained.
Zuber was homeschooled and by 18, she had received her associate degree along with her high school diploma. "My daughter, she wasn't a bad girl in any way. She was really smart. Just graduated with her associate degree," Randy Zuber said.
Anyone with information about Sarah should call the non-emergency dispatch line at 503-397-1521, or the tip line for the Columbia Enforcement Narcotics Team at 503-397-1167.
— Spotlight Editor Darryl Swan contributed to this story
Statement from Zuber family
"Friday, 9/13/19, a palindrome, full moon, and six months since our beautiful Sarah Elizabeth Zuber was taken from this cruel earth. Around 12:30 in the afternoon, on March 13th, I received a hysterical phone call from Sarah's younger sister. "Mom! Sarah is dead in the ditch!" This is a phone call no parent should ever get.
Much like the rain soaked, overcast day of March 13th, a dark cloud of uncertainty permeates our thoughts as we are left with unanswered questions about the evening of March 12th. At times the grief is unbearable, so much so that only a groan escapes my airway, and the tears flow unceasingly through the lonely night. There are times when I literally stop breathing, only realizing it the moment I expel a deep breath, my lungs in a state of paralysis until human survival takes over. I wonder if that is what it was like for Sarah. The only difference being that for some reason, she never took in that life sustaining breath. Only the exhale…then nothing.
What were her last moments? Was she alone? Scared? Or was she held, compassionately. Was it quick? Or did it take time for that final exhale?
Someone knows the answers to these questions. Please. From the depths of my heart, I forgive you. I just need to know the truth.
Sarah's family is pleading with you to come forward and tell us what happened. The outpouring of support we received over those first few month, was a true testimony of the grief all of you share with us. I am certain that this grief reaches out, even to the one or more who knows the truth. As a mom, a dad, a sister, a brother, an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, a friend, a neighbor, a classmate, a co-worker and even an acquaintance, we all are begging you to please come forward with any truth you know about the night of March 12, 2019 and our precious 18 year old daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Zuber.
Very sincerely, The Zuber family and friends"
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.