On Monday, in front of dozens of relatives and family friends, Shawna Purcell, 25, said good-bye to her baby sister, best friend and confidant.
Michele Purcell, 18, died Feb. 17, victim of one of the first shooting deaths in Clatsop County in about five years. She was found dead in a home she shared with her boyfriend on Clatsop Avenue in Astoria.
As her family buried Michele at Fir Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hillsboro near their family home in Aloha, Shawna Purcell couldn't help but think what kind of person would kill her.
"That type of person has to be just a monster," she said. "To look her in the eyes and shoot her, I can't even think of the words to describe this evil person."
Michele had recently come back to Astoria after graduating from Tongue Point Job Corps in October. She was in a relationship with a U.S. Army recruiting sergeant based in Astoria. That man, who Astoria police won't identify aside from being in his mid-20s, reportedly found Michele dead after she called him right before she is believed to have been killed.
Michele had recently enlisted in the Army and had been assigned to a military intelligence unit in Germany.
"This is cold-blooded murder," Shawna Purcell said. "There was no reason in the world to kill her."
An autopsy report by the state medical examiner's office in Portland determined that Michele had been killed by one gunshot wound from a handgun.
Astoria Police Capt. Alan Oja, who is heading up the investigation into Michele's death, said on Wednesday that authorities found the gun that killed Michele in the house she had been living in with her boyfriend. He did not specify exactly where in the house the gun was found, but did say that it appears to belong to Michele's boyfriend.
While details of exactly what happened are still unclear, around 3:30 p.m. on the day Michele died, one report said she had called her boyfriend after a group of people appeared outside her house who she felt were about to harm her. The boyfriend reportedly came home to find Michele's body and then called 9-1-1.
Oja said the department is looking into that, but as of yet, have not found anyone from the neighborhood who can confirm seeing people outside the house near the time of Michele's death. He said it does appear that Michele did make the call to her boyfriend that afternoon, but it is not clear why she did.
He said the man is not, nor has been, a suspect in the case, but that does not clear him from the investigation and authorities are continuing to work with him.
Gary Stauffer, spokesman for the Portland Army Recruiting Battalion, which oversees the Astoria post, said the Army is withholding any comment on the matter until the police finish their investigation. He added the recruiter in question has been on leave since the incident.
Siblings doubt story
Shawna Purcell said Michele was too smart to have let anyone she was fearful of into the house.
"I'm not buying it," she said, adding that Michele would have locked the doors, grabbed the phone to call 9-1-1 and found a safe hiding place.
Jason Purcell, 27, reached by phone at his home in St. George, Utah, also said Michele was too smart to have put herself in danger. He said he believes the person who killed her was someone she must have known because she would never have let a stranger in her home.
"I've talked to her, I've told her about safety," Jason Purcell said, who is training to be a police officer and also served in the Army.
While there are still many questions surrounding why Michele was killed, both of her siblings said their family will always miss the young woman they say was robbed from them.
"She was a very loving person," Jason Purcell said. "She's done a lot for me personally and a lot for her friends and family."
He remembered one time when he was going through a rough period of his life and his son, who was 11/2 years old at the time, became sullen and withdrawn and would not talk.
"She just had this spiritual side to her and she really pulled him out of it," he said. "Now he's perfect."
Shawna Purcell remembered Michele as someone who always was "radiating energy and always reaching out a hand to anyone."
She said often times when the two were on shopping trips in Portland, Michele would stop to talk to complete strangers on the street who appeared to be down on their luck just to make them feel special.
But Michele also made sure to give that patience and kindness to her family.
"She amazed me, she was a wonderful sister, she was always there and she had a wisdom beyond her years," Shawna Purcell said.
Instead of being buried, Michele was supposed to be in Minneapolis, Shawna Purcell said, celebrating with her after finishing up a round of tests at medical school. Then this summer the sisters were looking forward to a large family reunion.
Now, Shawna Purcell and Michele's other siblings and family members have to deal with her being gone.
"It's really difficult to even process something like this," she said. "She was our little baby sister."
The Purcell family has established a memorial fund for Michele. Shawna Purcell said anyone interested can make a donation to the account at any Wells Fargo Bank branch.
Capt. Oja has said he would like anyone who knew Michele or knows anything about her death to contact him at 338-6411 ext. 22.
Shawna Purcell also implored anyone who may know something to come forward so the mystery surrounding her sister's death can be put to rest.
"We know it takes time and we have to be patient ... we will find this person and we won't rest until it happens," she said. "If that person is out there and is capable of such cold-blooded murder that's something everyone should be concerned about."