'He was always there': Family mourns, remembers Ricky

Questions left unanswered as case progresses

BALDWIN -- Jessica Schaap and Ronette Hanna never stopped looking for their brother.

Richard A. Ashbrook, known as "Ricky" by those closest to him, was reported missing by his family on Feb. 11, 2018.

The family was given some answers as remains found buried in the backyard of a Pleasant Plains Township home were recently identified as Ricky.

"We do have a bit of closure because we have my brother back," Hanna, one of Ricky's younger sister, told the Star. "Now, there's so many unanswered questions that makes it that much harder."

Who was Ricky Ashbrook?

Ricky, as described by his sisters, enjoyed a lot of simple things in life.

"He loved to sit in his chair in the morning," Hanna said. "He always got up early in the morning to drink coffee, rock in his rocking chair and listen to his music."

Ricky was one that could always be found doing something outdoors. It was a passion of his. He loved to hunt, fish and go morel hunting, Schaap said.

Growing up, the family would travel to the Baldwin area and spend weekends on the lake swimming and fishing.

"We'd spend our time just being a family," Schaap said.

Even in their older years, Schaap and Hanna spent time living with their brother. That time allowed Ricky to shine as an uncle.

"He was always great with my son," an emotional Schaap said. "He would sit with him in the rocking chair and they would rock and laugh together."

"He was a brother that was always there for you," Hanna added.

Ricky wasn't just a brother and an uncle. He was also the son of Cindy Wilbur and proud father to his sons, Brandon and Codey Ashbrook.

"He was a very good father," Schaap said. "His sons miss him terribly."

"They take after him," she added. "They love to be outside. They fish just like him and they look just like him."

The family plans to celebrate Ricky's life, but a final date has not been determined.

'It wasn't like my brother'

Family members filed a report about Ricky's disappearance with the Lake County Sheriff's Office in February 2018.

At that time, deputies did a well-being check at Ashbrook's last known residence, which was where his remains were later discovered.

The sheriff's office then said due to Ashbrook's distant relationship with his family members, police did not believe any foul play or criminal activity was involved.

"It wasn't like my brother," Hanna said. "If my brother was going to leave, he would've gotten a hold of one of us no matter what."

The sisters said their brother was always in contact with his immediate family members.

"My brother would've never left and not say anything to his sons," Schaap said.

There was a moment just prior to Ricky's disappearance that left Schaap and Hanna heartbroken.

"When we lost contact with him … he was told he couldn't have any contact with us," Schaap recalled. "When he told us that, he turned around and started crying and said, 'This was not my decision.'"

Hanna said her family knew something was wrong from the beginning.

"When he turned around and looked back at us and said that it was the worst feeling ever," she said.

Cracking the case

Earlier this month, human remains were discovered by the Lake County Sheriff's Office at a Pleasant Plains Township property after receiving a credible tip.

Last week, the Michigan State Police Crime Lab identified the remains as Ricky.

"Once they really looked at the case … they have done an amazing job," the sisters said of Lake County's detective work.

"The sheriff's office spent countless hours after they got the search warrant."

"They really, full-heartedly have been doing a fantastic job," they added.

The case is now being investigated as a homicide.

"When (Det./Lt. Brad) Nixon called me, he said, 'I told you Jess. I wouldn't stop until we figured it out,'" Schaap said.

"He'll never be forgotten and we never gave up on him," she added. "We never gave up looking for him."