PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Sarah Oxenreider went to bed happy in her new apartment in North Portland on September 1, 2019. She sent a text to her mom in Oklahoma about the great evening she had meeting her boyfriend’s son: “We talked about Harry Potter. … Hope you’re well, Mom, I love you.”
Her mom, Lezlie Christian, said she and Sarah read Harry Potter together when Sarah was growing up.
“She had just been at her boyfriend’s house and met his son and she was very excited,” Lezlie told KOIN 6 News. “She thought maybe the boy liked her because they talked about Harry Potter.”
But that was the last text message Lezlie would ever get from her 26-year-old daughter. Within hours, an arsonist set her apartment building on fire. Within days, she was dead.
Filled the bathtub with water
Broadcastify: “2421, reports of an apartment fire north of 3947 North Albina Avenue. … OK, C2 has arrived. I’ve got heavy fire. I’ve a 2-story apartment. I’ve got heavy fire.“
Just after 1:30 a.m. Portland firefighters raced to Sarah’s apartment building in the 3900 block of North Albina Street.
“She awoke because she was coughing and the door was hot, the front door, so she knew she couldn’t get out the front door,” Lezlie said.
Sarah called 911.
“The fire department told her when she called 911 to get into the bathtub and fill it with water,” Lezlie said. “And she did.”
Broadcastify: “Go ahead, Dispatch. Female in Number 4 is still inside, entrance from the rear. She’s filling the bathtub and getting in it.”
Firefighters went in, determined to rescue Sarah.
“Then the roof, which was on fire, fell onto the ceiling. Then it all fell down on top of her and she was not conscious again,” Lezlie said.
Broadcastify: “Command copy, Engine 14 has got a victim. All companies with emergency traffic, Engine 14 is bringing out a victim.”
When the firefighter that rescued her was able to pull her out, he said he could tell she was very badly injured. Paramedics rushed Sarah to the Legacy Oregon Burn Center. Later that day, her mom arrived from Oklahoma.
“I waited for 4 days and watched them work on her,” Lezlie said. “She didn’t look like my daughter.”
During those long days, Sarah was in a medically-induced coma.
“Someone had brought up the first ‘Harry Potter’ so we were taking turns reading that to her.”
Sarah ‘spread her wings’ in Portland
At the Oregon Burn Center, Lezlie was surrounded by the friends her daughter made in Portland.
“Sarah made herself the person she wanted to be when she went to Portland,” Lezlie said. “It was like she was cocooned here (in Oklahoma) or something and she finally went to Portland and spread her wings.”
Sarah moved to the Rose City in 2016 to build a new life after struggling with mental illness and alcohol addiction. She was 4 years sober and active in several recovery communities, including the Oxford House program.
“She did an amazing job,” her mother said. “And did so well there that they told her she was in line for her own efficiency apartment, which was a couple weeks before the fire. And she had moved in and she was ecstatic.”
Four days after the fire, Sarah died at the burn center, a young, innocent victim in a heinous crime.
“I can’t give her anything anymore,” Lezlie said.
Investigators determined arson
PF&R Lt. Rich Chatman told KOIN 6 News that “at some point during the investigation our fire investigators realized it was definitely arson. Then, when it was declared that she had died, that became a homicide then. So the investigation was turned over to Portland police and their detectives.”
Five months later, there are still no arrests in the case. Investigators believe there are people with vital information who haven’t shared what they know.
“Every night I ask, I ask that the universe help the police find the correct person,” Lezlie said.
“We need people to recognize the seriousness of this,” Lt. Chatman said. “Dying in a fire is not a way any of us want to spend our last moments. Let’s help Sarah’s mom out. Let’s help out everybody who risked their lives that day and was affected by what happened that day.”
Lezlie Christian continues to hope someone with information “could find it in your heart or your soul” to come forward and help solve the crime of who killed Sarah Oxenreider.