Nicole Westbrook, 21, and her boyfriend, Bryant Griffin, had been in Seattle only a few weeks when she was killed in a random shooting on April 22.
Nicole Westbrook and Bryant Griffin arrived in Seattle last month with two suitcases and a backpack.
After the chaos of moving 1,400 miles to a new city, the young couple from Albuquerque, N.M., celebrated Griffin’s first paycheck with a night out. They went to dinner and caught a comedy show.
Before heading home in the early-morning hours of April 22, they wandered around Pioneer Square to take in the architecture, the public art and the nighttime energy of their new neighborhood.
“It really was a celebration. … It was the happiest he’d seen her since they got here,” said Westbrook’s aunt, Joyce Esquer.
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Westbrook, a 21-year-old culinary student, and Griffin, her boyfriend of three years, were steps from the front door of the Quintessa Apartments at Second Avenue and Yesler Way when gunshots erupted from a moving car. Pedestrians hit the sidewalk.
When the shooting stopped, people slowly got to their feet. But Westbrook didn’t move.
A bullet had struck her left cheek and shattered her spine. Her heart stopped, depriving her brain of oxygen. Westbrook’s heartbeat was restored, but she never regained consciousness.
Her family flew in from New Mexico, Texas and California and stood vigil by her bed at Harborview Medical Center. Her mother washed and braided her hair.
On Wednesday morning, Westbrook died.
In accordance with her wishes, her organs were donated.
“She’d given this a lot of thought,” Esquer said Saturday while seated in the lobby of a downtown Seattle hotel with Westbrook’s older sister, Marcia. “All that could be donated was taken.”
Westbrook’s mother, Joleen, also donated her daughter’s newly purchased textbooks and cooking utensils to the Art Institute of Seattle, where she was enrolled. The items are to go to a student in need.
The family, members of the Navajo Nation, plan to start a scholarship fund for other Native American students who share Westbrook’s passion for food and want to attend the school.
“If you look at Navajo philosophy,” Esquer said, “it’s a matriarchal society — women take the lead. She definitely epitomizes that. She really was about beauty and peace and connections to more than what you see.”
Until her 8-year-old brother was born, Westbrook was the youngest of four children — and her older sister and brothers were extremely protective, said Marcia Westbrook, 31.
“She was really growing up in front of us,” she said of watching her sister research and plan her move to Seattle. “It’s hard on us because we couldn’t protect her. My brothers, I can’t speak for them, but I can see how much they hurt.”
Now back in El Paso, Texas, Griffin and Westbrook’s relatives will make the nearly 500-mile journey to Farmington, N.M., on Tuesday to mourn with their extended family in the rural community where Westbrook was raised and learned to farm, hunt and fish in accordance with the teachings handed down by her parents and grandparents. She will be buried next to her father.
“Across the Navajo Nation, word has gotten out,” said Marcia Westbrook, who already has grieved the death of her father, Sgt. Marshall Alan Westbrook of the New Mexico National Guard, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2005. Her uncle, Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, was fatally wounded in Afghanistan four years later, and her brother, Army Sgt. Ryan Westbrook, returned from a tour in Afghanistan a week before their little sister was gunned down.
Seattle police have made no arrests in the shooting and still are trying to identify a man — considered a probable witness — who was captured by video-surveillance cameras running from the shooting scene, police spokeswoman Renee Witt said. At least three gunshots are believed to have been fired from someone inside a white, newer-model sedan.
Anonymous tips are welcome, and anyone with information is asked to call the homicide unit’s tip line — 206-233-5000 — or to contact CrimeStoppers of Puget Sound, which is offering up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest. The CrimeStoppers tip line is 800-222-TIPS (8477).
“After my sister passed, I started thinking about him more,” Marcia Westbrook said of the unknown shooter. “I’m pissed off. I’m angry right now.”
“There are so many emotions,” her aunt said. “There’s pain, there’s anger and, of course, just immense sadness. I want justice, and I do think about this individual or individuals. I still hope these people, this person, that there’s humanity left and … it’s eating away at them every day, every night, till they can’t stand it any longer and come forward.”
The women said it’s impossible for the gunman to know the raw depth of their grief and what they have lost.
Westbrook was quiet and content, someone who just by being present helped ease her mother’s pain after Westbrook’s father was killed. She was drawn to Seattle by the city’s restaurant and music scenes, its focus on the environment and sustainability, and its urban lifestyle with easy access to the outdoors.
Esquer said the city where Westbrook and Griffin were so excited to start a new life has in turn showered her family with support. People even stopped them on the street to offer condolences.
“This one cowardly act has been followed up by all this kindness and love,” she said. “It doesn’t ease the pain, but there is goodness.”
On Saturday night, about 60 people gathered at the spot where Westbrook was shot. Tea candles lined the sidewalk and encircled a smoldering bowl of sage. A line of men beat hand drums, their voices rising and falling in mournful song.
“We’re trying to hold you guys up the best way we know how, to share our medicine,” said James Old Coyote, a member of Sacred Water, an intertribal drumming group and canoe family from Suquamish.
Gazelle Williams attended the candlelight vigil out of a sense of solidarity with the Westbrook family. Her great-nephew, 22-year-old Desmond Jackson, was fatally shot four times in the chest outside a Sodo nightclub in February. His slaying remains unsolved and is one of 11 homicides in the city in 2012, compared with four by this time last year.
“He was so loved, you know, so I know exactly how this family is feeling. It doesn’t get any easier,” Williams said.
As members of the Westbrook family embraced Seattle police Officers Travis Hill and Travis Lloyd — they were among the first to reach Nicole Westbrook and start CPR — Lt. Deanna Nollette watched the gathering from across the street.
“We actually had an officer on foot within a half a block who heard the shots. The two others,” she said, referring to Hill and Lloyd, “got here within 60 seconds. I was at First and Yesler, so I got here within 90 seconds.
“She was shot right in front of her home,” and the officers “did what they could to save her,” though it was painfully obvious just how grave Westbrook’s injuries were, Nollette said.
As the singing ended, Randy Peters, a Chehalis elder, stepped forward to speak.
“In times like these,” he said, “it’s hard to find words because it hurts. … Sympathy is too small, sorry is too small. Our people come from many nations, but when things like this happen, we come together. I ask the Creator to come and comfort you through these hard times.”
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654