January 12, 2008 in City

Deputy remembers his slain niece

By The Spokesman-Review

The last time Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Bergeron saw his niece, Jennifer Bergeron, she was being led out of a suspected drug house by Spokane Valley police.

Jeff Bergeron was assisting the officers in a foot pursuit. After apprehending two suspects in a backyard, Bergeron and his partner led them to the front of the house, where he spotted the girl who had lived with him and his wife through most of her childhood.

“Her life had kind of come off the rails,” Bergeron said.

That was a couple of years ago.

Six days ago, the blond 22-year-old was found slain in a Spokane apartment.

A crossbow, pliers, butcher knife and brown belt were used in the killing, according to a search warrant affidavit filed this week in Spokane County District Court. A note reading, “Watch the shocking video of Cole Strandberg,” was found in 22-year-old Cole K. Strandberg’s Spokane apartment, according to court documents. Under that message on the same paper but in big orange letters was the word “Strangle,” according to the documents.

Strandberg is charged with killing Bergeron and is in Spokane County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

Investigators found an unlabeled VHS tape in his apartment, but it contained nothing relating to the homicide, Lt. Dave McGovern said Friday.

The Medical Examiner’s office listed Bergeron’s cause of death as strangulation, acute trauma and blood loss.

According to court documents, Strandberg told police he met Bergeron at the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza and knew her only as Jennifer.

On Monday, when Bergeron’s body was found, according to police, Strandberg went to Sacred Heart Medical Center and told officials there he’d done something bad and there was a body in his apartment. Police found a naked body – later identified as Jennifer M. Bergeron – in the apartment.

According to court records, the victim had a “Y shaped” wound consistent with the “crossbow arrow found next to the crossbow on the floor.” She also had injuries consistent with a set of pliers found at the scene and marks on her neck indicating she’d been strangled.

A detective at the hospital asked Strandberg if he was injured. According to court documents, he replied, “No, I’m a schizophrenic.”

When detectives executed the search warrant at Strandberg’s apartment at 1304 S. Chestnut St. No. 2 on Monday, they seized the suspected weapons and the tape and note, according to documents.

Nearly two decades earlier, when Jennifer Bergeron was 4 years old, she moved in with Jeff Bergeron and his then-wife Dar in Reardan. The girl’s mother, Jeff Bergeron’s sister-in-law, lived a “pretty rough life” and couldn’t provide a stable home, Bergeron said, so the couple was given custody. When the couple divorced about 10 years ago, Jennifer stayed with Bergeron’s ex-wife but still visited him, Bergeron said. As she grew older, she seemed to withdraw from the family, he said. One Fourth of July a couple years ago, Jennifer told him she was addicted to methamphetamine.

“She’d kind of cut contacts with a lot of folks, good influences in her life,” he said. “It got to the point where I didn’t even get a call from her. It was almost like she was just living on the street, really, just going from friend to friend.”

Jennifer graduated from Reardan High School, Bergeron said, and was enrolled in the Running Start program at Eastern Washington University.

“She either got her (associate’s degree) or was real close to it,” he said. “That’s about the time I didn’t see her regularly. She was starting to make some friends that I really didn’t care for.”

Jennifer Bergeron had a 31-year-old brother, Jesse, who works as a software engineer in California and a 30-year-old sister, Ginger, who lives in Spokane, but she didn’t have regular contact with either, Bergeron said. Ginger and Jesse moved in with Bergeron and his ex-wife shortly after Jennifer did.

Jennifer Bergeron’s mother lives in Texas and is expected in Spokane any day, Jeff Bergeron said. Funeral arrangements will be decided once she arrives, he said.

Bergeron said his niece lived a typical small-town childhood. She played on a T-ball team, which Bergeron coached, and was very intelligent, he said.

“She learned to read very young,” he said. “She was very advanced.”

When the two would play concentration games like Memory, Jennifer always won.

“She was really good at that stuff,” he said. “Better than me, and I was an adult.”

A sheriff’s deputy since 1998 and a former Reardan police chief, Bergeron said he finds comfort in the fact that someone has been arrested and charged with his niece’s death, but the case is still overwhelming

“It’ll sink in as time goes by,” he said. “We loved her. We’re going to miss her.”

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