BREMERTON — A lot of people who had never met Jenise Wright came to her memorial service Saturday.
Yes, her whole family was there — her parents, all her siblings, her aunts and grandparents, most dressed in Jenise’s favorite color, purple.
Her mother, Denise Wright, told stories about Jenise sneaking out of the house with six Popsicles to share with friends and boxes of cereal for impromptu picnics. Her three older sisters talked about how “sassy, outgoing” and fun Jenise was and how much they were going to miss her.
“I love you, baby sister,” said Coralise Almojera, 23. “I’m so sad you didn’t get to have a full life and do everything you wanted.”
- Beloved Mama's Mexican Kitchen in Belltown to close
- Washington officer shoots men accused of earlier beer theft
- Paul Allen's First & Goal signs letter expressing concerns over Sodo arena
- Seattle no longer America's fastest-growing big city
- West Seattle couple leaves all their assets -- $847,215 -- to Uncle Sam
Most Read Stories
And yes, there were teachers, and school-bus drivers, and neighbors and friends who had known the bubbly little 6-year-old who loved to sing and play and visit and chat.
Her bus driver for last school year, Courtney Lacock, said the descriptions of Jenise as a social butterfly were not exaggerated.
“She was totally bubbly and outgoing. A sweetheart,” Lacock said. “She wanted to talk to everybody, and I’d have to tell her to stay in her seat.”
But mourners also included many who had never heard of Jenise until she was reported missing Aug. 3, one day after she was last seen by her parents.
Filling three rows of the church were investigators and deputies with the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office who had been on the case and with the family since it all started as a missing-child call.
There were also people who had helped look for her, or fed the volunteers or passed out fliers. There were many people, too, who felt connected to the girl simply because they had children her age, or because they’d prayed or worried when she was missing or mourned when she was gone.
“How could you not fall in love with her little face and that smile?” said one woman who had not known Jenise, but who attended the public service at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jenise’s body was found, five days after her parents last saw her, submerged in a muddy bog.
A 17-year-old neighbor, Gabriel Gaeta — a boy who had been a trusted friend of her family — has been arrested on investigation of first-degree murder and child rape. Police say DNA evidence ties him to the crime.
Though Jenise’s parents, James and Denise Wright, said almost immediately after the arrest that they forgive Gaeta and feel compassion for his family, others in the community were not so quick to follow their example.
Over the past week, Gaeta’s family and family friends have been the victims of arson, vandalism and threats, according to law enforcement in Bremerton and Kitsap County.
Bremerton police were called to the home of a Gaeta family friend in East Bremerton on Thursday, where one car had been set on fire and another vandalized.
“When a child is lost, we all suffer,” Sheriff Steve Boyer said at the service. He urged people to leave the “pain of the past behind,” to abandon thoughts of retaliation and to move forward and heal.
Seeking revenge against the teen’s family would be like “trying to drink poison to make someone else sick,” he said.
Bishop Chris Byron also urged people to turn away from anger. He said Jenise’s parents taught him something when they explained that in order “to honor Jenise as she truly was, they could not hate.”
He asked people to remember her “smiling, loving, trusting” ways and to turn their fears and doubts and wounds over to God.
Jenise’s father, James Wright, walked up and down each pew before the service, shaking hands and thanking people individually for coming.
During the service, he said words could not express his gratitude to law enforcement and the people in the community who have offered support.
“My family and I want to thank each and every one of you for all you’ve done for us and for your thoughts, prayers and kindness,” he said.
He said later that despite forgiveness for the suspect, the family still has a long road of healing ahead.
The family’s first priority, he said, is to regain custody of their three other youngest children, 8, 12 and 16, removed by Child Protective Services just after Jenise was reported missing.
After the service, Denise Wright said she did find some healing in the celebration of life.
“It makes me feel better to see how well-loved she was. It does help.”