Samantha Guthrie was in danger.

In early November, an acquaintance called her father and said Samantha was being beaten and robbed at an abandoned home where she was living near the Akron Zoo.

John Guthrie said he went to police for help, hoping that if they arrested his daughter for failing to show up for a court appearance, her family might have a chance to pull the 18-year-old out of the treacherous underground world of Akron street drugs.

But it was too late.

When officers went to the Lillian Street home, no one answered the door. And because police didn’t have a warrant, they couldn’t go inside looking for Samantha, John Guthrie said.
Hours later, the acquaintance called John Guthrie again. This time, he said Samantha was dead, shot and killed at the same Lillian Street house, her body spirited away in the trunk of a car.

It would take three weeks for authorities to find her body, which was dumped in a wooded area off Rex Hill Road in New Franklin, about 9 miles from the home where she was reported shot.

On Wednesday, four days after their daughter was located, John Guthrie and Joni Jackson sat down to talk about Samantha, their struggle to keep her safe, their quest for justice and their thanks to the Akron community and others who helped their family this month.

Samantha Guthrie was one of four children.

She went to Ellet high school, where she played basketball, spent two years on the wrestling team and acted in plays, including "Romeo and Juliet."

Her parents said they once believed she was bound for college, where she hoped to study neonatal nursing.

But sometime during high school, while working part-time at fast-food restaurants, she made new friends who were older than her.

Trouble followed, they said, including three or four juvenile arrests for drugs.

Samantha’s parents said they didn’t fight the arrests. Joni Jackson said she wanted her daughter to be arrested, hoping the courts might put her into inpatient drug treatment.
That didn’t happen, her parents said.

Samantha was ordered into a four-month outpatient program and, for a time, her father thought it might be working. Samantha looked forward to her appointments and she passed her drug screens, he said.

But when she turned 18 this spring, she became an adult under Ohio law. Juvenile courts lost jurisdiction over Samantha. So did her parents, they said, losing legal power to intervene.

Although Samantha’s family isn’t certain of the drugs she took, they suspect she spiraled into methamphetamine addiction, a resurgent problem in Greater Akron and Ohio as Mexican cartels flooded the market with cheap, pure, street drugs.

Samantha’s weight dropped, her parents said. Her run-ins with police over drugs continued. And she declined invitations from family and friends for somewhere to stay, choosing instead to remain on the streets.

That's likely how Samantha found the abandoned house on Lillian Street, a place where drug users and sellers often met.

On the night she was shot, there were 11 or 12 people there, said John Guthrie, who tried to unravel what happened to his daughter himself as police investigated.

Akron police arrested John Guthrie on kidnapping charges over his methods. But those charges were dropped this week after his daughter's body was found, John Guthrie’s attorney Noah Munyer said.

On Wednesday, sitting side-by-side in a conference room at Munyer’s office, John Guthrie and Joni Jackson thanked police and the larger Akron community for their help during the last month.

The two, who are divorced, looked exhausted and weary, but said they wanted to talk publicly about their daughter, hoping prosecutors would seek the death penalty against those who killed her.

They said Samantha was a kind and generous girl who touched many lives.

“It didn’t matter if you were wearing a suit or a plastic bag,” she would want to help, her mother said.

When her brother, John Guthrie II, got his driver’s license, he and Samantha didn’t joy ride. They pulled food from their mother’s pantry and drove around handing the food out to people in need, Jackson said.

“That’s the way they were raised, to help others,” Jackson said.

Yet the court system didn’t help Samantha when she had a drug problem, her parents said. And they said they believe it failed her again by not protecting her and the community from Danny Hamby, a 39-year-old career criminal and habitual sex offender who has been in and out of jail for most of his life, primarily on drug-related charges.

Hamby and Toni Kenney, 31 — a woman with a short criminal history from Warren — face murder charges in Samantha’s death. For three weeks, Hamby and Kenney knew where Samantha’s body was while her family, friends and strangers searched, Jackson said.

“The system needs changed. Everyone’s worried about everyone’s human rights and how people feel,” Jackson said. “How does Samantha feel?"

Samantha got the death penalty, her parents said, and so should those who killed her.

“She was a young girl …” her dad said.

Samantha's mom jumped in to finish his sentence, “… an 18-year-old girl in a bad situation.”

The family is inviting the community — particularly those who knew Samantha or who volunteered to help find her — to a celebration of her life Saturday at the Italian Center, 134 E. Tallmadge Ave., Akron, from 2-6 p.m. About a dozen restaurants are donating food for the event, which was organized by family friends. The family has also set up a GoFundMe account (https://www.gofundme.com/fc4cb-bringing-samantha-home) to pay for Samantha’s funeral and burial. Any money raised beyond what’s necessary will be donated to Texas EquuSearch, a nonprofit group that searches for the missing and that traveled to Akron to help search for Samantha, her parents said.

Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or agarrett@thebeaconjournal.com