Daughter's Murder Haunts Yarboroughs -- No Arrests Imminent 1 Year After Honor Student's Death

FEDERAL WAY - There is a videotape in the Yarborough home that has never been touched. Tucked away in a bedroom closet, it sits amid old photos and school papers. On the tape, 16-year-old Sarah Yarborough is singing during a school choir trip.

Although she would love to hear her daughter's voice once more, Laura Yarborough can't bring herself to turn on the recorder. She's just not ready.

A year after Sarah died, the mementos continue to flow. Friends and former teachers stop by with old school papers, photos and funny stories about the former cheerleader and honor student.

But a year after one of the biggest manhunts in the history of King County police, clues no longer pour in.

Sarah was found strangled in a brushy area at Federal Way High School the morning of Dec. 14.

Police were to hold a news conference today to update the case.

Immediately after Sarah's death, the case took top priority. As many as 20 detectives - three times the number in a typical homicide case - scoured the area for clues of a 6-foot-tall man with shoulder-length blond hair who was seen in the bushes near Sarah's body. A specially trained investigator put together a profile of the killer. And the Washington State Crime Laboratory quickly completed tests.

During the first months, more than 3,100 tips came.

But no one has been arrested.

And now the detective staff has been whittled to one. Jim Doyon, a former investigator in the Green River killings, is considered among the department's best, especially when it comes to long-term unsolved murders.

"That girl did not deserve to be killed in that way. No one does, but this was a particularly promising citizen who would have made a real difference to the community had she been allowed to live," he said.

Doyon received 40 tips a month since taking over the case in July, but said the most credible reports have been checked. Another 1,600 lower-priority tips remain on Doyon's desk.

Doyon said he would like to investigate several people and may ask them to submit to a DNA test. (DNA is a unique genetic fingerprint). In September, a former Tacoma man submitted to a DNA test, but the genetic identity didn't match.

No arrests are imminent, he stressed.

Tom Yarborough, Sarah's father, said he won't feel at rest until the killer is caught.

Laura Yarborough said she wishes police could devote more resources to find the man who cut her daughter's life short. A likeness of his face continues to peer out windows from hundreds of businesses throughout South King County, but some store owners say fewer people look at the drawings.

So much time has passed.

For the Yarborough family, time has crept.

"The shock has worn off," said Laura Yarborough. "Now, there's just pain."

And memories. There will be no tree this holiday season. Family traditions, like a favorite Christmas ornament, are marked indelibly with Sarah.

One of Sarah's goals was to become a National Merit Scholar. Shortly before she died, she got her scores from a PSAT test, a prelude to college-entry exams. Last month, Sarah's parents were told that their daughter's scores had placed her as a "commended scholar" - someone with top scores - in the national ranking.

Going to the school-board meeting to pick up Sarah's certificate was the hardest thing her parents said they have done.

But Sarah's memory also has been an inspiration.

Andrew Yarborough, 12, used his sister's diaries to do a school project. Her mother will make journals as graduation presents for Sarah's friends. At the top of each page will be a quote from Sarah's diaries; she had one day hoped to become a writer. She also acted in school plays and was a dancer.

Bill Fuller, who works at Weyerhaeuser with the Yarboroughs and whose daughter, Elizabeth, was one of Sarah's closest friends, has launched a fund-raising drive and commissioned Bonney Lake artist Larry Anderson to create a memorial in Sarah's honor.

Anderson will build at least one bench - two, if the money can be raised - on the school grounds. One stone bench will have a bronze statue of a pile of books, a pair of ballet slippers and a necktie. (The week before Sarah died, she had won a necktie contest.) A bronze figure of her dog will be gazing at the statue. The other will be a statue of Sarah sitting and reading.

"We want the benches to be outside in a place were they can be displayed, or people can perform, because the arts were such a big part of Sarah's life," Fuller said. He said he hopes the statues will be completed by school graduation, next June 12.

Sarah Yarborough would have turned 18 years old the day her classmates graduate.

That day promises to be harder than Christmas.

Said Laura Yarborough: "I'd like to be profound and say we're all wonderful and healed. But we're not."

For comfort, she thinks of a psalm: "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you."

-------------------------------- HOW TO HELP --------------------------------

Donations for a Sarah Yarborough memorial can be made to:

Federal Way High School

c/o Sarah Yarborough Memorial

30611 16th Ave. S.

Federal Way, WA 98003