It was August 14, 1986, and Jeremy Bright was doing one of his favorite things – visiting the Coos County Fair & Rodeo in Myrtle Point, Oregon. Indeed, this annual fair was the major happening in the community’s calendar, with the five-day event including everything from carnival rides to square dancing.
The day before, on August 13, Jeremy had visited the fair accompanied by his old friend Johnny Fish. He’d also called his mother, who was in nearby Grants Pass, from a payphone. During the call, he would confirm arrangements for her to pick him and his ten-year-old sister up from their stepfather’s home in Myrtle Point, where the two were staying.
On August 14, a Thursday, Jeremy was at the fair again with his sister S’te. The lanky teenager, already 6 feet tall and wearing size 13 shoes, split up from his sister at 2:00 p.m., agreeing to meet up once more three hours later.
But when 5:00 p.m. came around, Jeremy didn’t show up to meet his sister. As a result, S’te found a police officer and told him about her brother’s no-show. The officer seemed unconcerned, though, telling her that Jeremy would soon show up.
Moreover, this apparent lack of concern was to become a recurring theme in the days that followed. Jeremy’s mother subsequently arrived in Myrtle Point to pick up Jeremy and S’te on August 15, as arranged. However, there was still no sign of Jeremy.
It’s worth remembering that back in 1986, people simply weren’t as anxious about children’s whereabouts as we are today. In fact, it was five days before a story about the missing teen appeared in the local paper. And that was just a brief item on page two.
So when Diane turned up to collect Jeremy and his sister from their stepfather’s house, her son was nowhere to be seen. His wallet, his watch and the set of keys to the home in Grants Pass were there, but there was no sign of the teenager.
Years later, Diane still recalls that the Myrtle Point police chief told her not to worry. Indeed, he’d apparently said to her that once the fair packed up and moved on, Jeremy was sure to reappear. However, her son did not resurface.
Eventually, after three months, the Coos County Sheriff’s Office became involved in the case. As a result, the idea that Jeremy was simply a runaway who would show up in due course was shelved. Speaking years later, Detective Staff Sgt. Dan Looney said that in Jeremy’s case there had been none of the telltale signs that a child had run away.
For example, there was no evidence that Jeremy had ever made any plans to flee. What’s more, he was a keen basketball player and by all accounts had been looking forward to going back to school after the summer vacation. He just hadn’t seemed the type to disappear.
Obviously, once it became apparent that Jeremy’s disappearance did not seem to have been planned, other theories came into play. Unfortunately, though, the case was soon to become mired in a series of rumors and false leads, which did nothing to help the investigation.
One story doing the rounds in town was that Jeremy had gone to a party. There, went the rumors, he’d drunk some beer that had been spiked with an illicit narcotic – and since Jeremy was known to have had a heart murmur, the drug might have killed him.
Another theory speculated that Jeremy had visited a local swimming hole, where he’d gotten into an argument with a group of youths. This turned into a fight in which Jeremy was shot and wounded – or so the theory went – and the youths subsequently took him to a cabin where he died.
Cecelia Fish, the sister of Johnny Fish, whom Jeremy had gone to the Coos County Fair with on the day before his disappearance, also provided police with a lead. She had been at her sister’s apartment on August 14. And late that evening, she claimed, she saw a man covered in blood leave the building.
However, when police investigated them, none of these theories and leads were found to have any substance. Yet there was one man in the frame. Terry Lee Steinhoff had been a babysitter for Jeremy in the past, and he’d been seen with the teen in his truck on the day that Jeremy disappeared.
Steinhoff actually ended up in jail in 1989 – the start of a life sentence for the murder of 32-year-old mother-of-two Patricia Morris. However, if he did have any information about Jeremy’s disappearance, he never shared it. And he never will. Steinhoff died of a heroin overdose while still behind bars in 2007, taking any secrets he had to his grave.
So the sad truth is that all these years after the disappearance of Jeremy Bright, we are no nearer to finding out what happened to him. Nonetheless, officers at the Coos County Sheriff’s Office haven’t forgotten the case. Speaking to The World, Sheriff Craig Zanni said, “My heart goes out to the family, and I will tell you that I think of those people daily.”
In fact, as recently as 2016, officers were out searching a lake in Coos County after a tip-off about a possible person of interest. Sadly, though, this turned out to be another fruitless lead. Sheriff Zanni told The World, “I think that he disappeared the afternoon, or the early evening, on the 14th. I think he was probably, obviously, dead and dumped. Probably by the next morning.”
S’te Elmore, now a married woman with nine children, described her feelings in an interview with TV station KVAL in 2011 – marking 25 years since her brother had disappeared, never to be seen again. “It’s a struggle”, she said. “You never want to give up hope.”
“Twenty-five years later, we just want answers,” S’te added. “Our main goal is to find Jeremy and to lay him to rest. Just to know that he’s taken care of.” In the same interview, Jeremy’s mother, Diana, said, “God will take care of justice for us. We want to heal, that’s all.”