HOUSTON, Mo. (AP) - The adoptive mother of a girl whose burned body was found in Missouri this summer said she's spent the two months since her daughter's death wondering what she could have done differently to save her.
Tamile Leckie-Montague and her then-husband adopted Savannah when the girl was 2 months old and raised her in Minnesota. Savannah went to live with her biological mother in Missouri in the summer of 2016 because she was having behavioral problems. Fragments of the 16-year-old girl's bones were found in August at the home she shared with her biological mother, Rebecca Ruud, and Ruud's husband, Robert Peat Jr. The couple was indicted last week in the girls' death.
"You start speculating in your head, that's the hardest part," Leckie-Montague told The Springfield News-Leader . "The what-ifs are the worst."
Leckie-Montague, of Columbia Heights, Minnesota, lived near some of Savannah's biological family when the girl was born in 2001 and agreed to the adoption because Ruud was struggling as a single mother. It was an open adoption and the two women stayed in touch throughout Savannah's life, she said.
Savannah was diagnosed with ADHD, high-functioning autism and depression, Leckie-Montague said. As a teenager, the girl would sometimes attack her siblings without provocation and was hospitalized once for cutting and once for possibly suicidal behavior, she said.
Afraid the girl would try suicide again, Leckie-Montague, who by then was divorced from Savannah's adoptive father and living with her fiancT, Cary Steeves, began looking for help but couldn't find in-patient care for Savannah. Eventually, Ruud offered to take the girl to rural southwest Missouri and the change seemed to help, Leckie-Montague said.
"Somehow going and getting this fresh start, it just completely reset her," Leckie-Montague said. "She was doing so well."
Prosecutors have alleged Ruud subjected Savannah to horrific abuse but Leckie-Montague said she had no clue that was happening. Leckie-Montague sent money to Ruud to help with expenses but Ruud began complaining about finances last fall, she said.
The communication with the girl and Ruud stopped in mid-July, when several calls and text messages were not returned. On July 20, Ruud told Leckie-Montague that Savannah was missing. Authorities believe the girl was dead by the time Ruud made that report.
Leckie-Montague said Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed told her and Steeves to stay in Minnesota while Savannah was missing. They also were told not to attend a memorial service because officials could not guarantee their safety, Leckie-Montague said. Steeves said the couple receives death threats almost daily on a Facebook page but they deny suggestions that they sent Savannah away because she couldn't get along with Steeves.
"The relationship between Cary and Savannah has been a focus," Leckie-Montague said. "It had nothing to do with Cary."
They came to Missouri to attend Ruud and Peat's first court hearing on Monday. Leckie-Montague said she couldn't comprehend that Ruud could kill Savannah and needed to see her in court.
Leckie-Montague said she plans advocate for parents of special needs children to have professional advocates to help them navigate health care challenges.
"I believe that she would want something good to come out of this," Leckie-Montague said of her daughter.