Nicole Westbrook: In the Way of the Gun

The best night of a 21-year-old's life ended when a stray bullet struck her. In Seattle, she's not alone.

Nicole Westbrook and her boyfriend Bryant Griffin crossed Second Avenue and started up Yesler Way just after 2 a.m. on Sunday, April 22, surprised to see a crowd in front of their home. As many as 20 people were outside the Quintessa, a mid-level apartment with views of the waterfront and Pioneer Square. Most were moving along the sidewalk in the 50-degree night. But a knot of men stood near the Quintessa's entrance, where three "Private Property, No Loitering" signs greeted visitors in the entryway, with six similar signs posted in an adjoining walkway.

As newcomers to Seattle, the couple had leased a $750 one-bedroom unit on the fifth floor. The Quintessa billed its location as "the epicenter of downtown Seattle," close to shops and nightlife. It was also a short walk from the SoDo screen-printing firm where the lean, lightly bearded Griffin, 29, had just landed a job, and a quick bus ride from the culinary classes at the Art Institute of Seattle where the 21-year-old Westbrook, who drew second glances for her large cat-like eyes and the dark-chocolate hair she hadn't cut in two years, was studying to become a pastry chef.

*See Also: Video of the victims, provided by their families

Though a nightlife magnet for tourists and sports fans headed for nearby stadiums, Pioneer Square is also populated by down-and-outers, drunks, and drug dealers. As Westbrook and Griffin walked the streets that night, they passed a hock shop across Second Avenue where, according to a clock in the window, time had stopped. It was true for that stretch of the street. Figures moved in the darkness along vacant and boarded-up storefronts. Some may have been headed for one of the local missions or low-income housing units in the area, pushing their worldly belongings in shopping carts. Westbrook and Griffin passed business after business in the Square with "Private Property" signs in their windows or doorways, with "Conditions of Entry" notices to ward off chronic lawbreakers. In one window, a shop owner had posted a photo of a customer and captioned it "Thief."

Still, it beat Albuquerque, where the pair had met in 2009. Seattle may have its seamy pockets, but it was their new frontier, full of promise. Westbrook had been raised by her Navajo family in Farmington, New Mexico, and Griffin had relocated to the desert from Maine a few years prior. Westbrook attended beauty school in Albuquerque; Griffin was a graphic artist, a silk-screener since he was 18.

The two had struck up a conversation on a social-networking site and later met for a date. Griffin was smitten: Westbrook had facial features people go to surgeons to get, he thought, and her shy smile made him melt. After that first date, they got together the next day, and had been practically inseparable since. They moved in together the following year, and began making plans for the future, including marriage.

Westbrook had finally become serious about a career after dropping out of high school as a teen following her father's death in Iraq. Army Sgt. Marshall Alan Westbrook, 43, the father of five, became the first New Mexico National Guardsman killed in combat when he was hit by shrapnel from a roadside bomb in Baghdad on October 1, 2005.

"She had trouble coping," remembers sister Marcia Westbrook, 31. "We all did. But she rebelled." Nicole ended up in an alternative school, from which she eventually graduated, seeking a career in hairdressing. The family was then rocked by the death of Nicole's uncle, Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, who died on October 7, 2009 from wounds suffered a month earlier in Afghanistan. He had been shot in the face and chest, but continued to fight heroically until he passed out.

"Nicole, like all of us, was shocked. But Bryant would become a stable force for her," recalls Marcia, who lived with the couple in Albuquerque.

Last fall, intrigued by the art of pastry design, Nicole had saved money to take culinary classes. She'd also become intrigued by Seattle, which seemed to her a water wonderland of music and culture. "We just kinda looked for a place that worked for me and her in terms of careers," Griffin recalls. "She found out the Art Institute had a culinary school, and Seattle was one of the highest-paying areas for screen printers. It seemed perfect."

Westbrook enrolled at the Art Institute and Griffin put out job feelers. Online, they found the Quintessa: modern digs, with an in-unit washer/dryer and a workout room. On March 30 this year, they arrived with a suitcase apiece and moved in. The next Monday, Westbrook went to her first cooking class. Within a couple of days, Griffin found screen work, first at D.A. Graphics in the Square, then at Inner City Empire in nearby SoDo.

It was a whirlwind three weeks to Saturday, April 21, a few days after Griffin had received his first paychecks from both employers. The newcomers decided to celebrate, leaving home around 10 p.m. and running into a crowd beginning to trickle out from a motocross event at CenturyLink Field. They strolled around the Square, having a bite at a cafe and a drink at a music club and eyeballing the neighborhood's historical architecture. They ended the night after catching Fahim Anwar's second set at the Comedy Underground. Anwar, who'd recently appeared on MTV and Comedy Central, is a UW grad and onetime Boeing aerospace engineer who prefers the comic stage to building jetliners. "You don't do well in comedy, no one laughs, right?" he tells his audiences. "You don't do well in engineering, thousands die."

The couple left in a high mood, feeling safe enough to venture home through Occidental Park, with its noticeable police presence out in force to monitor club closings. As they strolled among the late-night foot traffic on Yesler, they were delighted to be in Seattle, Griffin would later recall. "We had been cooped up for a while. It was great to be out and experience the town."

At 2:05 a.m., with the duo a few steps from their entryway, a white sedan drove past, abreast of the knot of men. A gun poked out a window. Three shots were fired.

None were intended for Nicole Westbrook. But she was the only one struck.

A bullet passed through her cheek, severing her spine. She fell to the sidewalk on her face. Griffin, who had ducked at the sound of the shots, thought his girlfriend had just been hurt by hitting the pavement. As he rose, he rolled her over and saw blood pooling.

"I kissed her on the forehead and told her I loved her," he recalls, "and tried to stop the bleeding."

Hospitalized on life support, she died three days later, never regaining consciousness. Just like that, Nicole Westbrook had become an unintended target of deadly Seattle gun violence. Today, she is part of what has become a record year of random-victim homicides in her perfect city.

By Seattle Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz's definition, the Westbrook murder was one of five shooting deaths this year that can be classified as random.

"When you talk about random shootings," says Metz, sitting in his office atop Seattle police headquarters on Fifth Avenue, a short uphill walk from where Westbrook died, "you're referring to people who are on the other end of the violence for which we can't find any reason why they would have been a target. They were not involved in any kind of risky behavior that would have put them in that kind of position."

The nearly 30-year veteran, now head of the department's patrol and investigative units, says he can't remember a deadlier year for such random acts of violence, starting with the February 5 shooting of Navy Petty Officer Gregory Wayne Anderson Jr., 25, an aviation ordnanceman from Texas stationed aboard the Everett-based carrier U.S.S. Nimitz. Anderson, the son of former NBA power forward Greg "Cadillac" Anderson, was with shipmates outside the SoDo club RepubliQ. Someone fired into a crowd in the parking lot near 2 a.m., killing Anderson and wounding three others. There had been a dispute and fighting, and police arrived at what they described as a chaotic scene.

Metz considers Anderson the random victim of a shooter who disappeared when the crowd scattered. "There's no indication Anderson was doing anything wrong," says the deputy chief. Investigators are still sorting out details, but witnesses have been reluctant to come forward.

The Navy man's death was followed a week later by a similar shooting 10 blocks north at SoDo's Club X, where police say Desmond Jackson, 22, of Seattle, was celebrating a friend's birthday. Afterward, he and friends were standing next to their cars when some members of his party got into a dispute with another group around 3:30 a.m. Someone in the other group fired shots, wounding Jackson and a friend. Jackson, hit multiple times, died later at Harborview Medical Center.

"He was someone who had an incredible life in front of him, with certainly no indication of criminal gang activity on his part," says Metz. "I think sometimes it's easier for the community at large that when a young African-American man is murdered, there can be an immediate assumption on some people's part that he must have been a gang member."

His family describes Jackson as a nice kid from a broken home who'd been raised mainly by his mother and aunts, and was finally getting his act together. "Neither Desmond nor any of his friends were in gangs," says Jackson's great-aunt, Gazelle Williams. "He wasn't into drugs or any kind of trouble. He was responsible. We weren't getting those calls to come bail him out, as too many parents in our community do."

Confirms Metz: "This was a good kid. No record, not even a parking ticket. He was just out with friends and having a good time."

One friend was Sherry Soth, who, like Jackson, had attended Ingraham High School. "They were just friends, but good friends," says Williams.

And they died in similar fashion, five months apart.

In a completely separate incident, Soth also became a random victim of violence when the 21-year-old cocktail waitress was shot dead while leaving a South Seattle party. The daughter of Cambodian immigrants, Soth attended the July 1 event after getting off work at Urbane, a wine bar in the Hyatt at Olive 8 hotel. She left the party near 2 a.m. when, outside, gunfire erupted, apparently the work of suspected gang members who'd been refused entry, police said.

Victoria Wilson, a friend of Soth's who witnessed the shooting, told The Seattle Times that she, Soth, and others were headed to their cars when "somebody behind us started shooting a gun into the air" and everyone ducked. When Wilson got up, a black car rolled past and "all of a sudden I see a gun out the window and they start shooting" into the crowd, she said. "It was like random, out of nowhere. They were shooting straight as they were driving off." Five others were wounded and survived, but Soth, rushed to Harborview, died during surgery.

The Soth murder, like the others, posed an extra hurdle for investigators. Random shootings are particularly difficult to solve, says Metz. As with any drive-by shooting, suspects leave only a trail of bullets. "And when you have random victims," says the deputy chief, "there's even less to go on: no connection to the shooters, along with very little physical evidence. It's not like a beating, say, where you might have DNA or something like that. They're very complicated cases."

And typically, when gangs are involved, nobody sees anything.

"I think it's a combination of either being scared or being protective," says Metz. "I'm not willing to accept the broad excuse of 'I'm scared to come forward.' I'm sure that is the case for some. But I also think that some are friends or family of that person and they're going to be protective and not cooperate." If they're scared, he adds, "there are ways to come forward anonymously"—for example, through Crime Stoppers (1-800-222-TIPS or crimestoppers.com).

To encourage more calls on these and other cases, the department last month launched a new billboard and bus-ad campaign to publicize unsolved murders, called "Who Killed Me?" The first billboards feature the faces of Westbrook, Jackson, and Danny Vega, 58, a well-known Filipino community member and beauty-salon owner. He was beaten unconscious and robbed during an evening stroll in Rainier Valley last November 15, dying from his injuries 12 days later. Vega managed to tell a witness that three black teens had jumped him, beat him bloody, and ran off with his cell phone and keys.

Mayor Mike McGinn issued a statement of condolence to Vega's family, noting: "Some have suggested that Mr. Vega's killers targeted him because he was an openly gay man. The police department is fully investigating this possibility."

The billboard campaign, at least initially, will focus on eight unsolved Seattle homicides of the 24 committed this year through the first two weeks in October (compared to 21 homicides for all of 2011). Of those eight, half—the slayings of Soth, Westbrook, Jackson, and Anderson—are considered random murders.

A fifth random murder, and perhaps the most publicized, was the May 24 shooting of Zillow software engineer Justin Ferrari in the Central District. He was struck in the head by a bullet out of nowhere as he drove his white Volkswagen van along Martin Luther King Way. Ferrari was returning from the airport, where he'd picked up his parents in the late afternoon, only to die instantly a half-hour later, the van rolling to a stop after a bullet smashed through the windshield and he slumped over the steering wheel.

Witnesses told the first arriving police officers they had seen a young black male with braided hair and wearing a red jacket running along the street, shooting backwards at someone. A police dog picked up a scent, then lost it. The case shaped up to be as difficult as the earlier random gun deaths.

For some, that highly publicized shooting, on the heels of Westbrook's murder, suggested that the odds of dying randomly in the Emerald City had soared. That notion was underscored further when, over Memorial Day weekend, more than 60 rounds were fired during a series of gang-related shootings around the city. Among those who escaped random death was an innocent bystander shot in the leg by a gang member in a dispute near the Space Needle, and a teenage girl who avoided getting hit by hiding behind a dresser as a hail of bullets ripped into her bedroom.

Deputy Chief Metz was called in to brief the City Council the following Tuesday, but couldn't explain the explosion of gunfire. "We're absolutely much better than this," he told the council. "So this is really a sad thing to see."

The next day was even sadder: Five people were shot to death at Cafe Racer in the Roosevelt District by deranged gunman Ian Stawicki, who also killed a woman on First Hill while stealing her car, before he later shot himself to death in West Seattle as police closed in. Seattleites began to ask themselves if it was safe to go outdoors in what is supposed to be one of America's safest cities.

Police Chief John Diaz, who with Mayor McGinn in April had announced a firearms crackdown, said Seattle was experiencing a new criminal boldness. Take that shooting near the Space Needle, Diaz told the City Council in early June. There were 20 uniformed officers nearby at the Folklife festival. Yet, "Once again, even with all those officers around, the one individual [showed no reluctance] about pulling out a weapon and shooting at that individual."

Though police were momentarily focused on the Cafe Racer homicides—an open-and-shut case, but one that prompted a thorough examination—they continued working the open random cases, with the Ferrari trail becoming the hottest. It would turn out to be the first, and so far only, random case to be cracked—a breakthrough example of what happens if witnesses come forward. It's also an example of how easily a life can be lost over an almost meaningless spat when gangs are involved. Police now say the death of Ferrari, a father of two and coach of boys' and girls' water-polo teams at Roosevelt High, resulted from a bullet fired by a stranger involved in a dispute over cigarettes.

It was split-second mistiming, the essence of random death. Justin Ferrari had driven from Sea-Tac International Airport toward his home in Madrona that Thursday in May. He followed an 18-mile route that put him on Martin Luther King Way passing King's Deli at East Cherry Street around 4:30 p.m. Every turn and stop put him precisely in line with a stray bullet whistling toward his van.

He never knew what hit him. Medics pronounced Ferrari dead while still sitting in his driver's seat. His mother and father witnessed his death, as did Ferrari's two children, ages 5 and 7, strapped in their child seats in the back.

The suspected shooter and those he was shooting at had all run from sight. But thanks to what turned out to be talkative witnesses and a fast-moving investigation, including key evidence from security cameras and cell-phone records, Andrew Jermain Patterson, 20, of Federal Way, was arrested in July and charged with second-degree murder. Police and prosecutors say they were able to crack the case by obtaining details from more than two dozen people who are designated as witnesses in the case, and authorities compiled more than 800 pages of testimony and investigative details to bring the charges.

Though the trail seemingly had ended when the police dog lost its scent, the alleged shooter was painstakingly unmasked through details provided by witnesses, including those directly involved in the incident. According to veteran SPD homicide Detective Alan Cruise, one bystander told police he had been walking past the deli on East Cherry Street that day when he saw four young black males—one of them later identified as Patterson—arguing. One called the suspect a "bitch!" The suspect then suddenly whipped out a silver semi-automatic handgun and began shooting and running away, firing three shots, the witness said.

Police Gang Unit investigators immediately linked the shooter and the others to recent gang activity around the deli, involving a group calling itself the "31 R.A.C.K.S."—which stands for "Running After Cash, Killin' Suckaz." Some members were even shown in YouTube videos standing on the deli street corner. Two of them, 20-year-old half- brothers, lived just a few blocks away, and at least one matched the description of those outside the deli the day Ferrari was shot.

In a court affidavit outlining the case, Det. Cruise says that gang investigators, after checking with sources, learned of a young female who'd been inside the deli eating at the time of the shooting. When they contacted her, she claimed not to know much. But to show she was hiding nothing, she allowed detectives to see her cell phone and extract data from it. They discovered a text message sent the day after the Ferrari shooting: "lol too funny as i sat and saw the whole thing play out up until a innocent person got shot . . . and they still ain't found dude they not gonna stop."

Detectives, working their sources further, tracked down another person who, it turned out, was reportedly one of the three who'd been shot at. He claimed the dispute was over a pack of cigarettes he'd just bought and brought outside, where the three others were talking. "He states they wanted his smoke and began to taunt him, and he berated them back," says Cruise. "He claims he turned away and heard [a] metallic noise and ran as shots went off."

The cigarette purchaser said the shooter had cornrows and was a light-skinned African-American wearing a red-and-black North Face jacket. He thought the suspect's name was Jones. Detectives also learned from others that the female who'd sent the text message had been on a bus with the suspect that day. They requested all Metro videos taken on buses traveling eastbound on Cherry Street on May 24. In one, they found the suspect boarding coach 4120 at Third and James, wearing a North Face jacket.

When he departed about six blocks from the deli, he swiped an Orca card for payment. But after obtaining a warrant, police discovered the card had been stolen the day before in a purse theft at a Central District library. Still photos from the transit video were then distributed to officers and shown to crime-scene witnesses, who confirmed that the man in the picture was the shooter.

Then, almost exactly a month after the murder, the case was solved, police contend. On June 23, gang Det. Ben Huey, who had been researching associates of two "31 R.A.C.K.S." members, discovered a matching description of the man in the photo—Patterson, who had prior arrests for assault, firearms, and burglary. Police learned he had a Federal Way address, and that he was about to appear in an Auburn courtroom for assaulting his girlfriend.

Huey went to Auburn two days later and sat in the back of the courtroom, watching Patterson. The suspect walked out a free man, however, after the girlfriend failed to show for the hearing. She later fended off inquiries by gang investigators, but provided a telephone number and address for Patterson. Investigators also obtained security video footage from her apartment complex that showed Patterson, two days before the Ferrari killing, as a match to the suspect in the Metro transit video. Investigators also obtained a YouTube video that showed Patterson with others on the deli corner. In that video, he is wearing earrings and shoes that witnesses said the suspect was wearing on the day of the shooting.

On July 13, police obtained Patterson's cell-phone records through a court order, then were able to map his path the afternoon of the shooting by tracking back on his calls through a cell tower. "As this phone is tracked in the hour before the shooting," Det. Cruise attests, "it travels in a pattern consistent with the route of the bus ride the suspect in the red jacket took."

Police presented their case to prosecutors. Six days later, on July 19, a Seattle police SWAT team, aided by U.S. marshals and homicide detectives, arrested the boyish-looking Patterson at his Federal Way home. He is now being held on $2 million bail and faces up to 23 years in prison. Represented by public defender Aimee Sutton, he has pleaded not guilty. As of this writing, no trial date has been set, as Sutton awaits a ruling on a request that the court prohibit the media from taking photos or video of her client during pretrial hearings. She says that police, during their investigation, encountered conflicting identifications of the shooter, and that the cigarette purchaser identified a suspect other than Patterson. In a court motion, she notes that her client's arrest "created a maelstrom of media coverage," arguing that limiting cameras in court would lessen any prejudicial effect on potential trial jurors and help preserve "the authentic recollections and memories" of witnesses.

It was a relatively swift charging, compared to other cases, Metz admits. "We got lucky," he says, noting that good police work and swift developments and eyewitness reports in the first 72 hours made a difference. "We had people in the community that were willing to step up and provide some important information, and they were able to get us to Mr. Ferrari's alleged killer."

Relatives and friends of the other random victims pray for similar breakthroughs. Westbrook's sister, Marcia, for one, says they're "encouraged by the Ferrari arrest. We just hope there's a break soon in her case, too." She thinks most people in Seattle want to help if they can. "The reaction we've gotten," says Westbrook, "is from so many people wanting to put up flyers and expressing sympathy, trying to keep the case alive. My sister touched a lot of people she didn't know."

At a press conference introducing the billboard campaign, Marlo Williams, the mother of Desmond Jackson, asked that "anybody with information that can help solve Desmond's case, please, please come forward." But Jackson's family, on their regularly updated Facebook page, reported a week later that "There have been no tips called in regarding who murdered Desmond, NOT ONE. That is what the family is being told. I guess we are wasting our time asking/begging for help. Well it feels like we are because people care more about the murderers than they do about the victims and the victims families."

In an interview, Jackson's great-aunt Williams says she doesn't like to speak critically of police, but expressed disappointment in the lack of an arrest. "The thing with Desmond's case is that there were, like, three carloads of people who were there, who saw what happened and drove away. Some of Desmond's friends know who they are, and we have names, and we've given them to police, but nothing's happened. I worry about Desmond's friends now."

She has taken her concerns directly to Metz, and to the public, appearing with the deputy chief on KING-TV's New Day Northwest program on September 26. She wasn't critical of the probe, but wondered how anyone in the community could keep quiet about such a senseless murder. Asked by host Margaret Larson to turn to the camera and appeal to those who might have information about Jackson's slaying, Williams said: "The African-American community is very small. So people know who did this. People, their family, aunts, uncles, they know that these kids [suspects] are in trouble . . . in and out of jail, in and out of juvenile. They need to start thinking about asking their kids some questions. As a community, we need to get together, step forward, and take back our streets. We cannot have this many murderers in Seattle, in the African-American community. Gregory Wayne Anderson was murdered by an African-American. Nicole Westbrook was murdered by an African-American. Desmond Jackson was murdered by an African-American. And Danny [Vega] was murdered by an African-American. We cannot have this many murderers running our streets. They have to be connected. The south-end gang we know was involved in Desmond's murder. The families who live in the south end—you need to collect your family members so that we can clean up our streets. Your kids can go to jail, but at least you get to talk to them. Families in this city, in New Mexico, in Texas, are suffering. And we need justice. We need justice."

On news and community websites, some have asked why none of the cases involving minorities have been solved as quickly as the killing of white Madrona resident Ferrari apparently was. Metz says the other random cases lack the witnesses who were fortuitously on the scene and willing to talk in the Ferrari case. But police are working them equally hard, he says. He cites the recent arrest of a suspect in the killing of Seattle teen Quincy Coleman, shot to death behind Garfield High School on Halloween 2008, as an example of the time and persistence it takes to solve some cases. D'Angelo A. Saloy, 20, was charged last month with murder and assault for shooting Coleman, 15, and wounding a second teen as part of a dispute between the Hoover Crips and the Deuce 8, an offshoot of the Black Gangster Disciples. Police arrested Saloy as he left the state prison in Shelton after serving almost 11 months for second-degree assault on a police officer.

"It took four years," says Metz, "because people finally began giving us information, and we were corroborating it, and were finally able to put a case together. We never dropped it. The problem is that we have to be very careful that we don't allow political pressure or community pressure to force us into making an arrest that may not stick. If we put a poor case together . . . and the case comes back not guilty, that's it. So we'd rather err on the side of caution, being much more methodical, much more in-depth in making sure we've got the right evidence, and that's going to take a little more time sometimes. But because we're taking a little more time, that doesn't mean it's been put on the back burner or that we don't believe the case isn't important."

Random deaths, while harder to solve, get a special level of investigator interest simply because they are more challenging to crack. Take the Westbrook case, Metz says. "What's really frustrating is the fact that she, like these others, was not the intended target. There's no explanation as to why. There was no indication there was any kind of disturbance or conflict or anything else involving her or her boyfriend earlier in the evening. There were a number of people on the street; that round could have hit anybody.

"We do believe there are people in the community who know who may be responsible or know who is responsible. That's what the billboard campaign is about. We want to make sure people know and see that these victims had family members that are grieving over this. We want to make sure the community doesn't forget, and that we haven't forgotten."

Bryant Griffin recalls that everyone along Yesler Way that early morning of April 22 ducked awfully fast, perhaps from experience. His girlfriend Nicole Westbrook went down fast too, but from the bullet that struck her.

"There was no one next to us," Griffin recalls in an interview from his home in Maine, the first time he has publicly discussed the night in detail. "The car had passed us and the shooter was shooting back at the group of men, it appeared."

Most of the crowd quickly scattered, though one individual, a black man in a suit, stayed behind to assist. He came over to Griffin as he reached down to his prone girlfriend, shaking her, then turning her over. "I had no idea she was hit," Griffin recalls. "Even if someone was shooting, they wouldn't be shooting at us. Then I saw what looked at first like blood coming out of her mouth. It was from a small point of entry on her cheek."

He was holding her in his arms when the first police officers—some close enough to hear the shooting—arrived within 30 seconds and began resuscitation efforts on Westbrook. Almost a dozen officers flooded the zone in minutes, obtaining from the man in the suit a description (but no license-plate number) of the newer white four-door sedan. Police radio helped establish search perimeters and broadcast a general description of the car, but officers were unable to track it down.

Westbrook was rushed by a fire-medic unit to Harborview and Griffin followed, riding in a police car. He waited hours while she was in surgery, then put on life support.

"The docs weren't telling me much that night, so I stayed in her room, by her bed, and held her hand all night," says Griffin. "Around 7 a.m., they ran CAT scans and all that, and were able to tell me her vertebrae was shattered, and even if she did somehow wake up, she would have to be ventilated the rest of her life. She wouldn't be able to move at all."

In three days, as her family arrived from New Mexico, Westbrook was pronounced brain-dead. Her organs were removed and donated, and she was then disconnected from life support. Her funeral was May 4 in New Mexico; she was laid to rest next to her father at Greenlawn Cemetery in Farmington. The obituary in her hometown newspaper described her as "Nicole Elizabeth-Marie Westbrook, 21, of Seattle, Wash."

"Every day with Nicole felt like a dream," says Griffin, back working as a silk-screen artist in Maine after taking some time off. "I was simultaneously soothed by her presence, in awe of her beauty, in love with her heart, and dumbfounded and extremely lucky that this girl felt the same towards me. It seemed like we could make it through anything, and we planned on the rest of our lives together. We talked about what our kids would be like, and Nicole would tell me of dreams that she had of 'our two sons.' I didn't just lose Nicole, I lost our family.

"Nothing can bring her back," Griffin adds. "Or replace her. But I am hoping for justice—that someone speaks up. That's all I can hope for now."

randerson@seattleweekly.com

 
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