Those who knew Jennifer Ayers, 63, say her life should not be overshadowed by her brutal death. “That’s not what Jennifer was about, or what this neighborhood is about,” says her twin brother.
With her son and beloved dog leading the way, more than a hundred of Jennifer Ayers’ friends, neighbors and family members walked her favorite path Saturday to celebrate the slain woman’s life — and ensure that it won’t be overshadowed by the circumstances of her death.
“This is a response to this random, horrific crime,” said Ayers’ twin brother, K.C. Ayers. “That’s not what Jennifer was about, or what this neighborhood is about.”
The 63-year-old Lake City woman was raped and killed and her body set ablaze Jan. 15 in her home on a quiet, residential street. A 23-year-old Bellevue man, Michael Giordano, was arrested hours later and charged with aggravated first-degree murder. Police say Giordano, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, told them he picked Ayers at random and started the fire to destroy evidence.
“It’s really hard to wrap your head around it,” said Ayers’ friend and neighbor Monica Rappin. “It’s hard to imagine her not being here.”
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In rain that alternated between mist and a downpour, well-wishers piled flowers in front of the house where Ayers lived for nearly 25 years, and which she remodeled herself. “She was always busy, and she always said any job worth doing was worth doing well,” said her son, Tobias Folkert.
Ayers installed wood floors and drywall, and tackled even the toughest plumbing issues by herself.
“She was never, ever a victim,” said Folkert, 22. “Any problem, she’d look it up and figure out a way to solve it.”
As the group wound slowly through nearby Meadowbrook Playfield and Community Garden, where Ayers and her 13-year-old Cairn terrier Wolfie walked early every morning, participants shared memories of the slain woman.
How she was always helping people on the block pull up weeds or clear away brush. How she cared for pets when neighbors were sick, and showed up early to decorate for the community Christmas party — focusing on the bottom of the tree because she stood a scant 5 feet tall. This summer, she was planning to help her sister fix up an old house in New Hampshire.
Rappin recalled Ayers harvesting zinnia seeds from the community garden, then growing a colorful crop in her own yard. “She was like a little Mother Earth.”
Folkert, a student at Western Washington University, said his mother studied archaeology at Washington State University and helped excavate the stunning array of Makah tribal artifacts unearthed at the Ozette site on the Washington coast.
After his parents divorced, Folkert’s mom did yard work and landscaping and cleaned houses to earn money — which she husbanded with care.
“She was a phenomenally frugal person, in all the best ways,” he said, recalling how Ayers used to appropriate his old pants and baseball caps to wear around the house and yard.
Ayers was also intellectually voracious, researching everything from particle physics to astronomy and the origins of human consciousness. Her house is stacked with piles of books, Folkert said.
Even his friends from high school and college enjoyed talking with his mom, Folkert added, because she was curious about everything and loved to listen — even though she was quite introverted.
“She treated everyone as an equal,” he said.
Ayers was born in Connecticut. Her family moved to the Pacific Northwest when she was 6 years old, and she spent the rest of her life in the region.
Folkert said her work ethic was probably inherited from her father, who served as an officer in the Marine Corps. Then she passed it on to her son.
“Anything I admire about myself, I think came from her,” he said.
Folkert will graduate soon, and was looking forward to finally being able to contribute to his mother’s household. Now, he won’t have the chance.
“Everything is bittersweet,” he said. “We’re just trying to heal and move on.”
No public memorial service is planned. The family asks that any donations in Ayers’ name be made either to the Lake City Branch of the Seattle Public Library or the Seattle Animal Shelter.