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Family searching for justice two years after Ray Hanish's death

Ray Hanish's family is searching for justice two years after his death. He was found dead in his Reynolds home in March 2019 and there have been no charges or arrests for his death.

Posted: Apr 7, 2021 9:29 PM
Updated: Apr 8, 2021 1:07 PM

REYNOLDS, Ind. (WLFI) - Ray Hanish's family is searching for justice two years after his death. He was found dead in his Reynolds home in March 2019 and there have been no charges or arrests for his death.

"He cared about everybody," said Dottie Hanish, Ray's mother.

She said she had a very close relationship with her son, and that they would text and call each other regularly. Ray's family is remembering him as a loving man.

"He was just a very caring and compassionate person," said Dottie. "Nursing had to have been his calling because he cared about people."

Ray worked as a nurse at Monticello Healthcare. He posted a picture to his Facebook page in May of 2018 with the caption "Proud to be a nurse." Dottie said her son never missed a shift at work.

"He was happy-go-lucky," said his sister, Shar Prentice. "He was just a ball of energy."

Dottie said she was out of town on March 12th, 2019 and was on her way home. She said she had talked to Ray on the phone when he told her he spent the whole day cleaning his home and hanging a family portrait on his wall. He posted a photo of the portrait on his Facebook page on the 12th, the last photo he would ever post.

Shar believes she was the last person to have contact with Ray. Ray was a night-owl and she said she was up late in the early hours of May 13th messaging with her brother. By daytime on the 13th, Ray was no longer responding to Dottie's calls or texts.

On the 14th, Dottie started making calls to various family members to see if they had been in contact with Ray. On the 16th, Dottie called Monticello Healthcare to ask if he had shown up for his shift, which he hadn't. That same day, she filed a missing person's report with police. 

His body was found inside his home on the 17th. Dottie and Shar said there were several things that did not add up about his home. They said the inside was trashed. Dottie said there were red solo cups everywhere, multiple cigarette packages, cigarette ashes on the furniture, a bullet on the end table and his TV and car were gone.

Several things didn't add up. Ray had told Dottie he had spent his final day alive spring cleaning. Ray never owned a gun to Dottie's knowledge. Shar said Ray only smoked outside and even had a special ceramic ash pot to put out his cigarette butts in. And who had taken Ray's TV and car?

Two years later, there are more questions than answers surrounding the circumstances of Ray's death. Ray's death was ruled a homicide, death by ligature strangulation. Ray's wallet and phone were also stolen, his phone was never recovered.

"How he met them, I don't know, how much communication he had with, them I don't know," said Dottie regarding the people he may have been interacting with the night he died.

Ray's death is allegedly part of a large web of crime surrounding Garrett Kirts. Ray was killed 15 days before Nicole Bowen died at the hands of Kirts in Newton County.  Hanish's family said they have been told that Kirts confessed to killing Ray, but no charges have been filed.

As we previously reported, Kirts received a 55 year sentence for Bowen's death. Hanish's family feel investigators and the White County Prosecutor are intentionally not pursuing Ray's case because Kirts is now serving a lengthy sentence for his crime against Bowen.

"It's heartbreaking because Ray's life matters," said Dottie. "It's not somebody where it's like he was accidentally killed so we'll just forget about it, no."

"It's been really hard," said Shar.

Ray's family believes Kirts targeted Ray through an online dating app. But Ray's phone is the key piece of evidence that has not been found.

"He wants that partner who can share a life with him. Ray was a gay man and he wanted that white picket fence with a husband, he wanted all of those things," said Mel Roberts, a friend of and advocate for the Hanish family. "He was willing to fight against the injustice he saw in his community. He wasn't a fighter by nature, he was a lover and a caretaker."

News 18 talked with White County Prosecutor Robert Guy over the phone. He said that Ray Hanish does deserve justice too, and that he would not stop pursuing one case simply because the defendant had been found guilty and received a long sentence in another case. He said they are following new leads and that the investigation is ongoing, but they need more evidence to bring formal charges against Kirts.

The family wants to see Kirts charged with murder, not homicide.

"We know that he confessed to Ray's murder," said Cheryl Samuels, Nicole Bowen's mother. "Why can't Miss Dottie get the justice and feel the justice."

Cheryl said getting to address Kirts face-to-face and on the record at his sentencing hearing brought her family closure and a sense of justice. She wants that same feeling for the Hanish family.

In the days after Ray's death and before Nicole's death, she said Nicole had reached out to family members saying she needed help and needed to talk with them about something. Nicole's family never got the chance to fully understand her situation before her life was taken. As soon as Cheryl found out Nicole might have been involved in Ray's death, she reached out to Ray's family.

Now the two families, who were once complete strangers, lean on each other and show up for each other. They are connected forever by this tragedy. The two grieving mothers support each other in a way that no one else can. 

"We know how each other feels," said Cheryl, while holding hands with Dottie, Shar and Mel. "There's a lot of people who haven't lost a child, and they don't really know what it feels like."

"To watch the grace and the love Dottie and Cheryl have shown to one another and to everyone around them, is something I am so honored to get to see," said Mel. "It truly is the silver lining and is something that I want to pass on to my children."

The Hanish family is now turning to the public for help.

"Any conversation that you may have had even with Ray that would have told you something about the things going on in his life at that time," said Dottie. "All of it could be so important."

Anyone with information regarding Ray's death can contact the Indiana State Police at 765-567-2125. Ray's family has also started a Facebook group and a petition for people to continue to advocate for his death.

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