Maybe it was her bright-blue eyes, warm smile or honey-blond hair, but there was something about Rachel Burkheimer that continues to resonate in Snohomish County nearly four months after her slaying.
As details of her killing slowly unfold in court and media accounts, it is clear that the circumstances surrounding the life and sudden death of the vibrant 18-year-old have struck a chord. Relatives of the Marysville woman — who police say was bound, gagged and shot to death by an obsessive ex-boyfriend and his buddies — receive phone calls from emotional strangers and are stopped by people who want to offer their condolences.
Bill Burkheimer, Rachel's father, said a trust fund has netted about $1,500. Financial support from fund-raisers has allowed Rachel's mother, Denise Webber, who is divorced from Rachel's father, a chance to grieve for her daughter without rushing back to her job as a dental assistant.
Even the University of Buffalo School of Medicine, where Bill Burkheimer's brother-in-law is a professor, held a memorial service for Rachel shortly after her death.
"If there is a miracle out of this, it is my epiphany that good is greater than evil," Bill Burkheimer said.
Snohomish County has had its share of headline-grabbing, gut-wrenching killings, from Charles Campbell's murder of two women and an 8-year-old girl in 1982 to the beating death of Eli Creekmore by his father in 1985 to the rape and fatal stabbing of 7-year-old Roxanne Doll by a family friend in 1995. But even prosecutors point to the Burkheimer case as one that has touched a nerve.
"It is such a brutal murder committed by such young people for a motive which is unclear," Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Janice Ellis said. "It's hard for people to believe that young people can be involved in such horrendous behavior."
Police and prosecutors say Rachel Burkheimer's possessive and jealous ex-boyfriend, John Anderson, 20, enlisted seven friends and acquaintances to help him kidnap and shoot her.
Involvement in drugs may have played a role in her slaying. Even her choice of friends may have led her down a path that ended with her death.
Burkheimer was a fairly good student when she attended Marysville-Pilchuck High School. She played sports and loved to spend the weekends shopping with her friends.
But when her best friend, Cory Haynes, was killed in a car crash in summer 2001, her family says, she began to unravel. At the start of her senior year, her grades plummeted, she couldn't sleep, she was in counseling, and she often missed school, her father said.
Burkheimer was enrolled in Marysville Alternative High School in fall 2001. By spring, she had dropped out.
Around that time, she met Anderson at a party. She soon began hanging out with people her 21-year-old sister classified as trouble.
"She didn't hang out with people like that until she met (Anderson) at a party," Meghan Burkheimer said.
Meghan also knew Anderson, as well as Matthew Durham, 17, and Maurice Rivas, 18, who have both pleaded guilty to Rachel's slaying. Offering her sister a bit of advice, Meghan told Rachel she got a "weird" feeling from them.
In the more than 2,000 pages of witness statements, police reports and other investigative notes compiled by prosecutors, there are allegations that Rachel Burkheimer was running with a rough crowd of drug dealers and wannabe gangsters. There are several accounts of Burkheimer using drugs.
Bill Burkheimer said his daughter had spent much of last summer sleeping all day and partying all night. He had questioned her several times about whether she was using drugs, but she always denied it.
"She never came to us," Bill Burkheimer said. "If she was really in trouble, she would have come to us."
Drugs and, more specifically, a setup reportedly orchestrated by Rachel Burkheimer could have been reasons behind her slaying, according to information in court files.
Details of the reported setup are hazy, but a witness close to the case told police Burkheimer had set up Anderson and his friends because "they were planning to rob her friends for all of their dope or something."
Anderson and Yusef Jihad, 32, planned to abduct Burkheimer from 16-year-old Nathan Lovelace's house Sept. 23, prosecutors said. The plan failed when Lovelace's father returned home from work early, so Anderson called Durham and ordered him to drive Burkheimer to Jihad's home, according to witnesses' statements.
Shortly after Durham and Burkheimer arrived at the duplex, Anderson, John Whitaker, 22, and Tony Williams, 20, tied her up with duct tape, documents say. She was shoved into a black duffle bag, driven to a remote spot outside Gold Bar and shot to death, according to court documents.
Anderson, of Mukilteo, and Whitaker, of Everett, have been charged with aggravated first-degree murder. Prosecutors have until May to decide whether to seek the death penalty against them.
Jihad has been charged with first-degree murder. Jeff Barth, a 22-year-old neighbor of Jihad, and Williams have been charged with first-degree kidnapping. Lovelace has been charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree kidnapping. For Bill Burkheimer, the guilt is constant. He knew Anderson and forbade his daughter from seeing him.
"I thought he was a punk," Burkheimer said. "I didn't think he was dangerous."
It was around this time, in summer 2001, that Burkheimer noticed bruises on his daughter's arm but thought she had hurt herself playing soccer.
Looking back at the situation, Bill Burkheimer thinks his daughter was "a little fearful" of Anderson.
Karrie Roberts, a Lake Stevens woman who was a friend of Rachel Burkheimer's, told police Burkheimer had said Anderson had beaten and raped her. Roberts said he once tied up Burkheimer for three days.
Roberts said that in the days before her death, Burkheimer feared Anderson would kill her, according to a search-warrant affidavit.
Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or email@example.com.