In a small town settled on the far outskirts of Toledo, Ohio, a village tallying up just over 630 people was enjoying what began as a calm summer day. The local school was hosting a soccer camp and the farmers were tending to their growing cornfields, all was well in the rural world of Metamora.
Life would never be the same for that tightknit community again. Among the few residents, Sierah Jougin, a twenty year old college student, was home for the summer. She spent her time riding her bike through the backroads she grew up on alongside her long-term boyfriend. Right before arriving back to her house, her boyfriend drove off to his leaving her to finish the last half mile to her driveway alone.
She never would make it back to her house. Students attending the local school’s soccer camp can recall the confusion of learning someone had gone missing and that their parents would be joining search parties. Snapchat stories flooded with pictures of the beloved girl as everyone attempted to wrap their heads around the fact that their Hallmark town was no longer so cozy and safe. Some of those middle school-aged students at the camp are now turning twenty this year, the same age Sierah was when she was taken.
“When we found out what was going on, it felt like that thing that you never thought could happen where you live. It was a combination of fear and disbelief, knowing that it very well could have been you,” said Mackenzie Mitchey who was attending the International soccer camp.
It was “what if” for everyone else, but for Tara Ice this was real life. What if scenarios flooded into everyone’s heads, “What if that was me?” “What if that was my daughter, my sister, my niece?” For Tara Ice, this was not a “what if” scenario. She was forced to face the reality that her niece had lost her life due to incomprehensible violence.
Sierah was abducted and murdered while riding her bike a half a mile from her house. The backroad was surrounded by cornfields that measured to over six feet tall making it difficult for police to find her bicycle, but shortly after learning she was missing the community sprung into action. The FBI made their way into the little town and soon had headquarters set up at the high school just a short three miles down the road.
Tara Ice had been talking to Sierah about a year earlier when the two were on vacation, Sierah had asked her, “What is your passion, what do you want to be remembered for?” At the time Tara had no response. Now, her answer is much different.
“She knew exactly what my passion and my purpose was going to be after what happened and that is how I started it,” said Tara Ice, founder and president of Justice for Sierah.
Tara established Justice for Sierah, a nonprofit organization with a mission to share information regarding violent offenders, offering self-defense classes, and implementing a new curriculum in schools to educate children of the dangers that often go unthought of until the unthinkable happens.
Her first priority became Sierah’s law, also known as Senate Bill 231, which would create a database of violent offenders that not only law enforcement would have access to, but specifically those who live in close proximity of offenders found guilty of aggravated murder, murder, voluntary manslaughter, abduction, or kidnapping. In December of 2018, just two years after Sierah’s abduction, the Ohio House unanimously passed the law. Passing the law was only the first step, so much more was to be done.
In addition to establishing Sierah’s Law, Tara Ice paved the way for Sierah Strong for the Community, a self-defense class geared towards any boy or girl aged six through sixteen that also included KidPrint IDs. Tara had said that, “[Her] sister was asked by the police if she had anything that had Sierah’s fingerprint on it.” Thankfully, she did thanks to a KidPrint ID, because fingerprints never change, this was able to help the police when looking for her.
“It was still nagging at me though, that this wasn’t enough,” Tara Ice. This nagging did not go away and Tara Ice went on to create a school curriculum, Sierah Strong for the School. This program is intended for elementary and middle school aged children, but high schools have also incorporated aspects of the curriculum. It consists of three health lessons and four lessons of self-defense and is repeated every year, so it becomes second nature for these students. These lessons have been taught to over 2,500 students in Ohio and Michigan and that number continues to grow.
“When something tragic happens, that does not have to be the end of that person’s story and that person’s impact,” Melissa Andrews. Melissa Andrews, a journalist for WTOL, an Ohio news station, has taken it upon herself to not just report on Sierah’s story, but to bring awareness and education through her platform. Melissa has an abundance of connections and has used them to broaden the horizons of Justice for Sierah. She has said, “The power of journalism can be advocacy too.” Andrews has served on the board of directors for Justice for Sierah and now is on the advisory board.
Through her commitment of sharing Sierah’s story and with the approval of Tara Ice, Melissa Andrews interviewed Sierah’s murderer on death row in an attempt to gain justice for other possible victims as he was a repeat violent offender. Through this interview, another woman was able to be identified and another family was able to receive long awaited answers on her disappearance. While countless questions continue to swirl around the ins and outs, Melissa like many others has decided to focus on the good that has come out of this tragedy rather than the bad.
She may not be here anymore, but her impact is far from gone. Sierah’s life on earth may have been cut short, but her presence surrounds her community every day. Her story has empowered and educated thousands extending far past the small Ohio town, bringing opportunity and education to those of all ages in the fight against violence.
As of December 2022, 2,985 violent offenders can be traced through one of the five categories the database Sierah’s Law created. Sierah’s legacy is able to live on and protect many others by having this information public and readily available in Ohio, but Justice for Sierah is hopeful to reach all 50 states and pave a path towards protection through education across America.
After all, knowledge is power.
For more information on Sierah and her story, visit justiceforsierah.org