Elaine Keener, the wife of North Lake Community Church pastor Ron Keener, emailed closing comments about the murder of Chantay Blaikinship and the life sentence Ryan Riggs is serving for that murder. The contents of Elaine Keener’s email are printed here.
We cannot and we will not ever lose sight of the fact that Michelle and Steven McDaniel, other family members, (Chantay’s) boyfriend John, as well as friends, can never again go see Chantay at her Grandpa Charlie’s home where she lived in North Lake.
No, there will never be any more phone calls, birthday parties, or holidays spent celebrating together.
Chantay’s disappearance and brutal murder left a king-sized void in Grandpa Charlie’s heart as well. He loved Chantay very much. In partnership with his deceased wife, Chantay’s grandmother, he raised her. He was with her every day.
We have others in our North Lake Community Church family who have tragically lost loved ones and who understand not being able to talk with them, visit with them three times a month, or celebrate birthdays and holidays with them.
In all honesty, it never stops hurting, but life carries us onward. Yes, our life journeys have continued and have carried us into new seasons of learning, understanding, and forgiveness that we would never have thought possible. All as a result of God’s mercy, his unfathomable love, and amazing grace.
Now, on the other side of this battered coin, we are grateful and glad that Michelle and J.D.(Jason) Riggs have the opportunity to visit Ryan three times a month, see him for his birthdays, and celebrate special holidays with him in prison. But, anyone who has ever spent time in prison themselves, or visited someone in prison, knows this is not anything like being in your own living room at home.
Personally, I prayed on Sunday, May 15, 2016, that whoever murdered Chantay, whom I had grown to love since she came into our church family, would someday experience deep, painful, and heart-ripping conviction for what they had done to Chantay, turn themselves in, and confess openly and honestly to her murder. (I had seen glimpses of conviction in Ryan’s demeanor at times when he came to church, but never pursued the possible reason/s with him).
On the 10th of November 2017, when the DNA picture of the person responsible for Chantay’s murder was shared by Sheriff Vance Hill, I knew Chantay’s murder was getting very close to being solved. I cried and prayed — thanking God.
When Michelle Riggs shared with me that Ryan was missing and that four sheriff’s officers had come to their home looking for Ryan over a trash dumping incident, I knew in my heart it was Ryan.
At that point, my prayers really intensified. I was praying without ceasing. I remember praying specifically that Ryan would not do something stupid causing himself to be shot and killed when being apprehended.
I prayed he would not kill himself.
I prayed Ryan would turn himself in so his parents/family, Chantay’s parents/family, and our community would not be left wondering, as so many murder victim’s families are left to do.
I loved Chantay Blankinship. She was a special jewel God placed in the midst of our church for a season.
In fact, I prayed for the young woman whom I saw walking everywhere in our North Lake community, to someday walk into our church. One Sunday, she did and what a blessing she was to all of us who were in the church at that time.
I love Ryan Riggs. He is one of the young men God has placed in my life (as an adopted son) since my only son drowned in the Umpqua River in Oregon, in August 2008.
What a joy and privilege to be entrusted to encourage and love young men the world sees as impossible, but yet know that God sees all of their possibilities, even in the midst of sad, tragic, and horrible situations that occur in their lives. God is the redeemer of the impossible.
There are no perfect endings for anyone in these kinds of horrific tragedies. We daily trust God to bring his peace to every person touched by these challenging and painful circumstances.