"She was no bigger than a whisper," said Debbie D. at a memorial
service for RaeAnn Champaco. But RaeAnn's death, a stabbing in broad
daylight at Freeway Park, shouted louder than words.
RaeAnn was a small, bright, cheerful, energetic Guamanian woman who
had lived at the YWCA for just four months, since leaving her abusive
ex-fiance in Port Angeles. She was only 30 years old, she was deaf-and-mute,
and she was in the process of reclaiming her life in a new place with
As news of her murder started to circulate, fear filtered throughout
the women's and homeless communities. It took a full week for the identity
of the victim to be released; her stabbing is still unsolved. At the
weekly Tent City meeting the week of the murder, a woman named Morgan
warned, "I went to the bathroom in that park two days earlier.
Be careful! Be careful!"
The stabbing happened on a sunny Friday morning. A group of women entering
the restrooms at the east end of Freeway Park found a woman's body there.
"As they ran screaming from the restroom, they saw a white man
in a blue trench coat, 40 to 50 years old with brown hair," according
to police spokesman Duane Fish. "The man pulled his coat over his
head and ran north through the park." He was not found during a
search of the park and environs.
The identity of the woman who was killed was not released, so by the
following Monday many of us started calling the Medical Examiner's Office
for information. The victim had no identification, jewelery, or wallet,
and didn't match any missing-persons reports. By Tuesday the ME's Office
began leafletting the homeless women's and provider community, seeking
help identifying the victim. The ME had no recourse, in struggling to
make an ID, but to publish RaeAnn's morgue photo; I don't believe I've
seen such a haunting thing in my life. Both WHEEL and the Church of
Mary Magdalene also circulated a leaflet describing the victim, hoping
to help identify her. By Wednesday, YWCA staff made the identification.
Staff there had been worried it might have been one of their own, due
to the proximity of the park to their facility.
A week later there were still no suspects in custody. SPD started leafletting
the homeless community, this time with a photo of a person of interest:
an African-American man named Larry Dorsey, RaeAnn's ex-fiance. Multiple
domestic violence complaints against Dorsey are on file in Kitsap County.
Last fall, he was charged with stabbing another man five times in Pioneer
Square when the man refused to give information about RaeAnn's whereabouts.
On Friday, February 8, the Seattle Times reported that Dorsey
had been apprehended in Chicago, but police are not yet calling him
a suspect in RaeAnn's murder. The white man fleeing the murder scene
hasn't been caught. Word on the street is that the white man who was
stabbed by Larry Dorsey last fall was the one seen fleeing the murder
scene, and that he might have killed RaeAnn. A homeless man interviewed
for this story said he spoke to a friend of a friend who knows this
to be true. But then, the streets are paved with rumors....
The spirit of RaeAnn's smile
Women started unfolding their fears as soon as RaeAnn's identity was
made known, first at a small memorial at the YWCA, and then as a small
group of Y residents started organizing a cleansing ritual and Women
in Black vigil with women from WHEEL.
At the YWCA memorial, and later, over endless cups of tea in the YWCA
eighth floor lounge, women shared memories of their friend and mapped
out their strategy for the public ritual, to take place at the restrooms
at Freeway Park.
A couple of the women and RaeAnn had set up a signal system of waves
through the windows of their facing rooms at the Y. "Can we close
her curtains now? It's painful to have them open and know she's not
there to wave back."
Debbie D. wrote a poem:"You could not hear and we never spoke,
but now you speak with angels. I saw you walking in silent serenity,
yet always with a smile and a wave Hello! We needed no words to share
a greeting. My neighbor, I will remember you and thank you for the spirit
of your smile."
Amanda spoke of RaeAnn's mother, who'd come to the YWCA to gather her
daughter's belongings. She tried to comfort. "Don't be sad; she's
in a better place now, with the angels."
We were all rendered speechless by a thought Ann shared: "Can you
imagine what it was like for her the first time she could hear (in heaven)?"
Together, the women wrote their RaeAnn manifesto, to leaflet passersby
at Freeway Park: "We are doing our ritual/witnessing to point out
that the value of one's life is not based on the sum of one's wallet
or socio-economic position. We demand that every effort continue toward
solving this crime, as though it were still front page news and with
the same vigor as if it had happened to the President's own daughter."
Women take back the park
On February 13, the day of the me-morial vigil, fifteen of us made a
black-clad procession through the labyrinthine park to the scene of
the crime. The women from the eighth floor of the YWCA were ready: Amanda
was dressed to the nines in natty black clothing; she had a feather
in her hat and a pocketful of multicolored candles. Ann, just returned
from the hospital, had her arm in a sling and her black leather jacket
draped across her shoulders. Debbie D. brought a Valentine for RaeAnn:
a potted pink tulip and greeting card.
Before we started our ritual, a bearded white man walked up to us. With
no greeting he announced, "I just want you all to know I'm not
the one who killed her." He was a little drunk; he wondered aloud
why no one ever stands for homeless men who've died. "We do,"
we tell him. "We've stood vigil before, many times, for homeless
men who have died. Last year we did a Women in Black vigil at the Public
Safety Building for Timothy Dewitt, who fell off an embankment at this
very park and died on a freeway onramp." Our bearded friend walked
There is power in this park, despite its blind spots, hiding places
and dead silences. With a rattle, a woman from the YWCA opened the circle
and called the four directions. Pastor Pat Simpson of the Church of
Mary Magdalene led us in prayer and the sharing of memories, and then
an older Makah woman named Grace led us through a cleansing ritual with
smoke and sage, blessing and cleansing each of us around the circle.
After each of us had been blessed, Grace stood silently in the center
of the circle. The wind blew smoke from the still-burning sage directly
toward the women's restroom door, as though the spirit of the wind itself
were assisting our cleansing. One by one we lit a candle; even the KIRO
radio reporter set down her microphone and lit a candle in honor of
I talked to women afterwards; almost all of us had the same thought
during the silent vigil: She couldn't hear. She couldn't hear
him enter the restrooms after her; couldn't hear her own attacker. She
couldn't speak. She couldn't scream for help. Perhaps these were
just prurient thoughts, or perhaps it was profound empathy. During the
final closing prayer all of us, even those who did not know RaeAnn,
were in tears.
Pastor Pat went back to the park just after sunset to retrieve the candleholder.
Our two dozen candles had melted into a multi-colored pool; the sage
we left there had burned itself out. The orange, laminated sign the
Parks Department put up had a new explanation. "This restroom is
closed because (choose one): RaeAnn Champaco was murdered here."
And the pink tulips were still standing. We made our small mark; the
women took back that park.
— Memorial by Michele Marchand