For a little more than five years, Deloris Van Sant has found herself in the middle of a nightmare that no parent should ever have to endure, the investigation into the murder of her child.
Dianna Lehman, 18, of Terre Haute, was murdered in her own bedroom on May 19, 2000. The young woman, a proud mother of an 18-month old son who had recently moved out on her own, suffered a gruesome sexual attack and was strangled with a pair of blue jeans by an unidentified assailant.
It was apparent to officials from the beginning that the young woman was the victim of unfortunate circumstances.
"Dianna Lehman was not a prostitute, and had no connection to the two recent victims," Terre Haute Police Det. Darren Long said. Since the beginning of the case, he has been the lead detective. "The Lehman investigation played an important role in the cases out west and the Dickison and Harris cases."
On Monday, Van Sant had difficulty finding words to express her appreciation for the countless hours various authorities have spent to find her daughter's murderer. She believes Long's tireless efforts to be available for her family and keep them informed over the past five years deserves recognition.
"Det. Long is truly an amazing individual, and an amazing officer," Van Sant said. "He never gave up hope that the person who murdered Dianna would be brought to justice."
Her confidence in the case against the man charged with her daughter's murder, Kevin Hampton, comes from her trust in Long.
"He fought to keep the investigation alive. He fought for Dianna. He's my hero."
The murders of Tanette Dickison and Cassie Harris weighed heavy on Van Sant's heart, even before a connection was made to her daughter's death. The idea of another parent's child being viciously murdered, and the victim's family waiting during an investigation, is something she wouldn't wish on any parent. She's grateful the two families didn't have to wait long for answers.
"The Clay County Sheriff's Department and the local Prosecutor's Office did an amazing job during their investigation," Van Sant said. She understands the heartbreak of having to wait for answers, for resolution. "I thank God that the two families will not have to endure five years of waiting like we did. My heart goes out to them as they deal with their loss."
Understandably, it was difficult for Lehman's family to come to terms with what had happened, but a renewed faith in God brought the family together, stronger than ever. Van Sant is sure that her daughter has reached out from heaven to guide the family through this tough time.
"About a week before her death, Dianna drove up on a herd of deer standing in the road that wouldn't move for anything. They just stood and looked at her, unafraid. For some reason she just knew it was a miracle, a personal miracle just for her, and came to my work to tell me about it," Van Sant said.
The family had not been regular churchgoers before that time, but Dianna began attending a church on her own. "She was so excited about it. She just knew it was a miracle, grant it a small one, but a miracle meant just for her. That Sunday she went to the altar and was saved. She was murdered the following Thursday."
Later, in church, Van Sant found a Bible passage concerning deer.
"The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights," she read the highlighted passage from her New Living Translation Bible. "I know that God helped my daughter. He knew what would touch her heart and he used it to bring her home."
Lehman is described by her family as a boisterous and vibrant person that just lit the room up with her presence. Van Sant believes that the world is missing a huge asset because of her daughter's murder.
"She wasn't a saint by any means, just a normal teenager that did the normal teenage rebellion thing. She wanted to move out into the world and make a place for herself and her son," Van Sant said. Allowing her daughter to "grow up and move on" is a decision that she wishes she could have back. "If I could go back, I wouldn't let her move out, I'd demand that she stay home."
But that isn't possible, so, they push on to raise Dianna's six-year old son, Ian. The small energetic boy lights up the room with his smile, is full of questions and loves to chat. He has his mother's personality.
"I still have a part of my daughter with me," Van Sant said. She has made it a point to explain to Ian, in language he can understand, how his mother died. "He's the one good thing to come out of all this."
But now, with a trial looming in the future and the accused murderer having connections to cases involving details of prostitution and drugs, which are not part of Diana's original case, there are issues and questions the family doesn't want Ian to have to deal with.
"When asked about his mother, Ian tells people he has two mommies, and one is in heaven," she said. "He knows a bad person killed his mother. He's known all along because I didn't want him to have to just find out about his mother's death one day. That's enough of a burden for any child to have to deal with, but now we don't want him to have to defend his mother's death, and her honor."