Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Missing student confirmed dead

Archive from June 2011
Lindsey Treffry | The Communicator

SFCC student Leighton Welch, 35, missing since March, was found dead in the Spokane River on May 19.

On March 28, Michonda Weaver, Welch’s fiance, was talking to him via cellphone. He described a steep cliff, she said. Welch also told her that a dog in the area had spooked him.

Welch was intoxicated when he left home that day, according to Weaver. Spokane detectives said his cellphone was last used in the vicinity of 330 S. Oak St., near Browne’s Addition.

Welch’s body was found in the Spokane River close to the Stevens County line and near the Nine Mile boat launch, according to a May 21, Spokesman-Review article by Meghann Cuniff.

Welch was the father of two of Weaver’s children, Elijah, age 2, and Achellis, 7 months. The couple also raised an autistic child, named Zackahriha, age 4. The day after Welch’s body was found, Weaver discovered she was pregnant with Welch’s third child.

“He was the best father any child could ask for,” Weaver said. “He was always there for his kids.” Welch was studying social work and planned to transfer from SFCC to Eastern Washington University in the fall to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

Gerontology and social services instructor Polly McMahon had Welch in some of her classes.

“I could depend on him to want something better,” McMahon said. “For himself, his family, and his children.”

According to McMahon, he sat at the same table in class everyday. Part of the Coeur D’Alene tribe, Welch was paid to attend college, and through the payments supported his family, according to Weaver.

“Whatever grade he got he’d always ask ‘What can I do to get a better grade?’,” McMahon said. “Even if he had the maximum points, he’d want extra credit — a revise, a redo.”

Welch was the third student that the human services department lost this year, according to McMahon, who assumes Welch had an alcohol relapse the day he was on the cliff.

“When you drink you have impaired coordination. It happens,” McMahon said. “Especially if you have a grueling background (like) he did.

“He had turned his life around.”

According to Cuniff’s article, Welch had felony convictions, but according to Weaver, he had not committed a crime since the early 2000s.

“We had our problems, but we had an autistic child,” Weaver said. “Every relationship with a developmental child has a problem.

“But we overcame it.” Although plans are not concrete, McMahon and other social services students are planning a tribal-themed memorial for Leighton.

“He was a great guy,” Gerontology student Kerry Picard said. “He was personable (and) always wanting to help.”

According to McMahon, he was a iconoclast, always questioning and defying what is considered normal.

“A day without Leighton is a day without sunshine,” McMahon said. “He made me laugh and my eyes roll.”

According to Weaver, there has been some controversy over his death, especially online. Comments under the Spokesman story claimed that he committed suicide.

“He would never have done that,” Weaver said. “He was the person he was now because of our family.”

As seen in issue 42.11 of The Communicator.

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