Rachel Carver’s death brought hundreds of strangers to her side.
They never saw her run bases at a kickball game or giggle with a group of friends. They weren’t blessed with a chance to catch her grin, a smile so contagious it captured an entire city’s heart.
But they showed up relentlessly at a memorial service for the 9-year-old murder victim Tuesday, intent on saying goodbye to a girl they never had known.
“Her life and her death have affected so many people in so many ways,” said Hank Wright, a retired machinist from the South Hill who attended the service. “I didn’t know her, but I just really miss her.”
Police say Rachel’s uncle, Jason Wickenhagen, confessed to killing her last Wednesday on her last day of the third grade. Her body was found a day later, after hundreds had searched for the missing girl.
Wright, a 58-year-old with no children of his own, said it seemed odd at first being in the Shadle Park High School auditorium surrounded by young families, mourning the death of a little girl he’d only read about.
By the end of the service, though, Wright said he felt connected to hundreds of other outsiders who thought they, too, were cheated by Rachel’s death.
“There’s something about her that has made people want to be different, to change things,” Wright said. “She’s shown us to listen to the children.”
Rachel was eulogized by city officials and councilmen, police administrators and fellow third-graders from other cities. None knew the red-haired girl who craved hugs and studied the Bible.
“I wish I could have been her friend,” said Brittany Singer, an 8-year-old from Deer Park. Holding her mother’s hand, Brittany examined a blown-up school picture of Rachel at the entrance to the auditorium. “Maybe we could have helped her.”
Joann Singer said she brought her daughter to the service to give some closure to the story of Rachel’s life. Brittany and her friends have been swapping information on the girl’s death for days, Singer said, speculating on what she liked to do and what kind of punishment her killer should get.
They seemed taken by Rachel’s life. They’d heard that she had been abused and that her uncle was arrested for murdering her.
“The girls kept saying how they wished they could have adopted her and kept her safe,” Singer said. “They wondered why none of the adults around took care of her. They talked about her all the time.”
Brittany brought a vase stuffed with fresh flowers and carefully set it at the end of the auditorium stage.
“It’s such a tragedy because it involved one of our children,” Singer said. “We’re not supposed to let that happen. There’s a lot of guilt and grief here tonight.”
Many said Rachel’s death brought a community together again.
“We’ve seen a tremendous amount of love and human kindness come out of this,” said Robert Walker, a Spokane police officer. “We cannot forget what we’ve learned now.”
Some of Rachel’s other unknown admirers made a special trip from their Shadle Park homes to witness the service.
Many moved slowly, with walkers and canes, like Mary Margaret Slazas, who had never before stepped foot on the high school campus she’s lived less than three blocks from for six years.
She didn’t know Rachel, but Slazas found herself praying for the girl’s safe return when she first turned up missing last week.
When she heard of Rachel’s death, Slazas, 74, said she felt like she’d been punched in the stomach. Then she felt like crying, which she did.
“No, I never met Rachel,” Slazas said, clutching a withered tissue. “I never knew her. But I think we all do now.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: DONATION FOR RACHEL Delegates to the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly donated $2,750 this week to the Spokane Child Abuse Network in Rachel Carver’s name. The church delegates collected the money during their session Monday at the Opera House. In Rachel’s memory, delegates also will plant a tree at Finch Arboretum.