Sierra Bush had her whole life ahead of her. A star student who just began her first year at Boise State University, Bush was known for inspiring people to be unashamed of who they are. Fellow students said she made them feel safe.
But on Sept. 24, the 18-year-old freshman—who also went by “Simon” and who, according to friends, alternated gender identities—went missing. Her family believed she was the victim of a crime; it wasn’t like the engineering major to run away or engage in risky behavior. Her stepfather, Bart Green, told the Idaho Statesman that he and Bush’s mother “have felt from the very beginning that this is an abduction case.”
Their worst fears came true one month later, when police discovered Bush’s body in a creek about 30 miles away, outside of Idaho City. Since then, cops called her death “suspicious” but released few further details.
On Thursday, Boise detectives flew to New York City to cuff Bush’s suspected killer, a 61-year-old felon, and charged him with kidnapping, rape and murder. The suspect, Bruce Marchant, was arrested at a VA hospital in Manhattan that afternoon, an NYPD spokesman told The Daily Beast.
It’s unclear what ties, if any, Marchant has to the East Coast. An exhaustive probe, which consisted of nearly 200 interviews and crime lab results, led Boise cops to Marchant. Authorities have yet to share specifics on the case.
“Detectives who were working on this case had been investigating Mr. Marchant for a while,” said Brian Naugle, a deputy prosecutor in Ada County, which is pursuing the case. “They were keeping tabs on his whereabouts throughout the investigation.”
Naugle declined to comment on a possible motive. “This type of case is really rare for this community,” Naugle told The Daily Beast. “We’ll be working hard to make sure Mr. Marchant is brought to justice and the community is protected from it.”
When reached by The Daily Beast on Friday, Bush’s stepdad said the family wanted to thank Boise police, the Idaho state crime lab and the FBI, as well the U.S. Marshals Service and law enforcement in New York and Wisconsin, for helping nab Marchant.
“We look forward to hopefully a successful prosecution that will take him off the street for the rest of his life so he does not have an opportunity to harm anyone else,” Green told The Daily Beast.
“Until the police came over a few nights ago to give us a heads up about what was coming, we had never heard this man’s name,” Green added. “We didn’t know him. We didn’t even know he existed until an arrest warrant had been issued for him.”
According to the Statesman, Marchant spent 20 years in prison for convictions including armed robbery, arson and assault on a police officer. He was released from the Idaho Maximum Security Institution in 2008 before being arrested two years ago on charges of misdemeanor battery. Those charges, in Ada County, were dropped in 2015.
When Marchant tried to reduce one prison stay in 1989, an appeals court ruled against him, citing evaluations “which established that much of Marchant’s behavior resulted from debilitating psychological disorders.” The court stated Marchant swapped prescribed medication for “heavy alcohol use as means of controlling his behavior.”
While some friends and relatives said Marchant was a stranger, the Statesman revealed the suspected killer recently lived in a home owned by Bush’s father—only a half-mile from a duplex where Bush moved this summer.
The student—who friends described as “gender fluid”—had lived with her mother and stepfather in Meridian, Idaho until she graduated high school and her dad invited her to live with him in a new Boise duplex he was building, the Statesman reported.
Samantha McGraw, a close friend of Bush, told The Daily Beast that Marchant was likely acquainted with Bush. She said the victim’s father owned properties and was known for helping people who were down on their luck and giving them a place to stay.
“Her father is a generous man who is all about second chances,” McGraw said. “He takes people in and helps them out. Maybe this is a situation where [he] met this guy and tried to help him out. I don’t know.
“I’m sickened and disgusted that someone could do something like this, especially to someone so kind and loving,” McGraw added.
Bush was last seen Sept. 24 and was supposed to meet a pair of friends at a Boise State library the next evening. The group planned to discuss launching an art club for students who aren’t art majors, according to the newspaper.
“(We) showed up at the library at 5, but she never came. Both of us texted her, but she did not respond. It was unusual for her to be late, she was a punctual person, and was usually early to anything we set up,” one friend told the Statesman.
At first, the pals didn’t think anything was wrong. Maybe she went on a family camping trip or her phone died. But the following Tuesday, Bush failed to show up for class and wasn’t responding to text messages.
On Oct. 22, Bush’s body was found by a passerby. A Boise police sergeant told KIVI-TV that “the circumstances of how and where she was found also appear suspicious to us. She didn’t end up there, likely, on her own.”
Meanwhile, the Boise County coroner said Bush’s death was ruled a homicide and that she died of asphyxiation. Officials have not released details of an autopsy but said she died shortly after she was reported missing.
Before her alleged killer was arrested, Bush’s stepdad posted her eulogy on Facebook. Bush excelled in academics and loved math. She adored Dr. Who and had a “mad crush on Benedict Cumberbatch.”
Green noted taking Bush to see The Imitation Game, a film about the British scientist who faced discrimination for being gay despite his contributions to defeating the Nazis. He described Bush’s last few months as “great” and said “she was happy.”
“For only being there a few short weeks she was totally immersing herself in the college experience,” Green wrote, adding that she joined the Beekeepers Club, harvesting honey atop university buildings, and the Creative Writing Club.
Bush’s death shocked her colleagues at Boise State University, which held a vigil in honor of the rising star and creative writer. They wore bow ties, or donned pins in shaped as bows, to commemorate Bush’s favorite fashion accessory.
One friend, Evan O’Beine, told the crowd of 250 mourners that Bush was accepting of all people. He harkened her oft-used saying: “If I can be as weird as I am, be as you as you are,” the Statesman reported.
McGraw told mourners Bush went as both Sierra and Simon, because she felt sometimes feminine and sometimes masculine. “It was just two different sides of the same person. Two different names of the same person. It didn’t matter what she was going by, she was still the same person all of us knew,” McGraw said in October.
Adriane Bang, director of the campus Gender Equity Center, said that Bush introduced herself as “Simon” and started to prefer gender-neutral language and using the pronouns “they” and “them” to describe herself.
“It’s just a really sad situation,” Bang told The Daily Beast. “I’m a social worker here at Boise State. I’ve had quite a few students reach out, afraid for their own safety and grieving this loss.
“How can this happen in a town that feels so safe? This is not common for Boise. And with how bright Simon’s future was, it’s hard to make sense of all of that.”
In an interview on Friday, McGraw said her friends are heartbroken over the loss of a student who made everyone feel at home.
“We knew how much potential she had for doing good and for changing the world,” McGraw said. “It’s hard for us to imagine that spark and that light is gone from the world. I don’t want her to be forgotten.”