OAK RIDGE (WATE) – The mother of a young woman, originally from Oak Ridge and murdered in California, is sharing her feelings openly for the first time.
Her daughter, Erin Corwin, was a young military wife who went missing last year. Weeks later, searchers found her remains in a mine shaft in a California desert. The man accused in her death, Christopher Lee, has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer is hoping the trial will be moved to another town.
Corwin’s family still lives in East Tennessee and her mother Lore Heavilin is now sharing her ordeal.
“She was happiest on the back of a horse,” said Heavilin.
Heavilin said Erin’s second home was the East Tennessee Riding Club in Oak Ridge. It’s now become a place of comfort for her as she copes with her daughter’s death.
“She was sweet, kind, very naive. She would get upset if I killed a spider in the house,” Heavilin said.
The 19-year-old moved across the country to be with her husband Jonathan Corwin, who lived at the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms, California. Jonathan Corwin reported his wife missing last June after she didn’t come home from Joshua Tree National Park.
Days before search teams found Erin, her mother received a message from her.
“I had a dream and she walked up to me in that dream and said, ‘Mom, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. I had so many plans for my life,’ and she walked away.”
Erin Corwin’s body was found in a desolate part of the Mojave Desert weeks after she was reported missing
“I felt like she was probably in a mine shaft somewhere. I really kind of felt like we might be waiting years to find her,” said Heavilin.
What some don’t know is that this isn’t the first time the Heavilins have lost a child. Their 3-year-old daughter Trisha passed away in 2003 from sepsis, or blood poisoning.
“Losing one is hard enough. Having to lose the second one is even harder and with the way she was taken from us, it makes it much harder because it just doesn’t make sense,” Heavilin said.
Corwin was likely strangled and suffered blunt force trauma, according to investigators. An autopsy also couldn’t determine whether Corwin was pregnant. Prosecutors and Corwin’s family believe Christopher Brandon Lee, another Marine who was stationed at the same base as Corwin’s husband, is responsible for her murder.
Detectives say the two had an intimate relationship. Both were married.
Just this month in court, text messages between Corwin and a friend revealed she thought Lee was going to propose during a planned trip to the desert.
“In a way, it helped me know deep down in my mom’s heart what I knew that he had manipulated her and lured her,” said Heavilin.
Corwin’s mother is hoping to piece together every part of the story. A purple horse tattoo on her forearm along with purple ribbon stickers on cars are a daily reminder to get justice for Erin.
“There she is. That’s my girl,” she said, looking at the tattoo.
Lee’s recent not guilty plea was not a surprise to Heavilin, but rather a message that there’s a long road ahead before she can get the answers she needs.
“Not only did the emotional scab get ripped off, but somebody was rubbing salt in that wound, but then I start thinking about salt is healing, so I can heal from this.”
Heavilin says Corwin’s husband moved back to Oak Ridge and is going to school for welding.
Christopher Lee will be back in court on May 26 for a pre-trial hearing. His attorney says he’ll be focusing on issues with the evidence in the case.Slideshow: Erin Corwin