Three Billboards outside of California City

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Nearly two years ago 17 News introduced you to a Kern County woman after her daughter was murdered.

She vowed to never give up until her daughter’s killer was found, and she’s sticking to that promise, ripping her latest idea straight from the silver screen.

As the sun rose and the moon dipped into the Mojave mountains, something was different about the desolate desert road of California City Boulevard.

Three billboards strategically lined the road, sending a message of frustration and sorrow from the loved ones of 23-year-old Deverrie Schiller. They read “Busting grow houses is good”, “Busting killers is better”, “Deverrie Schiller, 10-92/06-16 murder unsolved.”

The signs are very much like those in the Oscar-winning film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

The film centers around a mother’s anguish trying to catch her daughter’s killer-and stopping at nothing to keep the case in the public eye, even if it means going head-to-head with law enforcement.

That character is notably similar to Debi Fones, the mother who has brought her own three billboards outside of California City. 

Olivia La Voice: Tell me why you put these billboards up.

Debi Fone: To piss people off. … I have a mouth and a way with words and i’m pissed off … I don’t want to be doing this. I don’t want to have to share my pain publicly, but I ain’t got a choice.

It’s been nearly two years since 23-year-old Deverrie Schiller was strangled to death in the park just across the street from the home she shared with her mother.

Fone: I know the first face she saw when she was born. I have a right to know the last face she saw when she died. 

The writing on the billboards came easy for Fone as she’s always felt the biggest issue with her daughter’s case is the lack of resources and manpower the police department has, so seeing the amount of work recently poured into seizing marijuana naturally raised questions — questions we had as well. 

It’s been difficult to ignore the massive marijuana raids going on in California City in the last year. In the same time, the city began allowing the growth of medical marijuana.

We wanted to know why are the department’s few resources and officers so heavily involved in marijuana, as murder cases sit on the shelf? 

California City Police Chief Eric Hurtado: Just the resources. There’s not enough time there’s not enough money, there’s not enough tools to do everything you need to do … Unfortunately Deverrie’s case kind of becomes a cold case for lack of a better term. 

Police Chief Eric Hurtado wasn’t in the office that day, instead we sat down with Det. Shannon Hayes — one of the department’s two detectives. He’s had deverrie’s case from the start.

We’ve asked him what it’s taken from the department to conduct the recent marijuana raids: 

Hayes: A lot of overtime, a lot of pulling resources from agencies, other groups. 

Hayes doesn’t deny that utilizing their resources on the busts has an effect on murder investigations.

I asked why he thinks there’s been so many raids in the last year-since the city began allowing the growth of medical marjiuana.

“I don’t know. I can’t speak to what the focus of the police department is because i don’t know,” Hayes said.

Despite her frustration, Fone never channeled it on Sgt. Hayes, she believes to some extent, he can understand her pain.

Hayes: It’s very frustrating. The Schiller case is a big one for me … Deb, she’s an original. She’s very unique. she is always in contact with me. 

I was talking to her this morning. She’ll sit in that chair probably once a week and we’ll talk about things that need to be done and things like that, and then not being able to get them done is frustrating because I have to look at that mother, I have to look at her in the eye and tell her I’m doing everything I can but right now it’s not much. 

It’s likely going to get a lot worse after a recent tax measure failure in the city. 

Hayes: From what I understand, June 30 is the end of the fiscal year, and we’re looking at going from 16 positions to four. Four police officers … so there won’t be any detectives,

LaVoice: So what happens with these cases then?

Hayes: They get worked on when they can.


Another way Debi is keeping Deverrie’s memory alive is with the fundraiser she created “Love You-Miss You-Call Me”, something her and Deverrie used to say to each other daily. The program’s goal is to help keep young women in the area safe. Deb is hoping to raise $1,500 so she can buy mini alarms for all the girls at Cal City and Mojave High school. Deb says if someone is ever in trouble, having one of those alarms on them could save their life. If you’d like to donate, click on this link:  https://www.facebook.com/donate/832000060339160/1711182258948399/

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