Burkheimer’s family begins to move on

The verdict

Denise Webber isn’t sure what this morning will bring, but she knows what it will not.

She won’t start the day steeling herself to listen again to the details of how her youngest daughter, Rachel Rose Burkheimer, 18, was abducted and beaten and shot.

She won’t have to fight traffic on the way to the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett. She won’t ride an elevator to the fifth-floor courtrooms, where she and the rest of Rachel’s family have spent much of two years in a painful vigil for justice.

A jury on Monday convicted the final person to go on trial for Rachel’s murder.

John Alan Whitaker, 23, faces life in prison. Those who loved Rachel agree the challenge now facing them is figuring out what their own lives will be like after their days in the courtroom are over.

“It is going to be strange,” Webber said. “This has been the focus of our life.”

Webber is hopeful there will be no delays in sentencing for Whitaker and four others who had been convicted of playing roles in Rachel’s death. She knows a sentencing hearing is its own ordeal. Seeing somebody walk away to prison brings relief but not joy.

In May, when John Phillip Anderson, who shot her daughter, was sentenced to life in prison without release, Webber quoted Scripture she felt spoke to how his evil deeds had brought his destruction. But it was hard for Webber to contemplate the bleak future awaiting Anderson, 22, whose nickname is “Diggy.”

“That night after sentencing was a terrible, terrible night,” she said. “I grieved for Diggy.”

A guilty verdict holds no joy for Meghan Burkheimer, 23. It brings justice, but in her mind it never will be enough.

“I’m always going to carry this hurt,” she said. “It’s going to be here until I die because my sister was supposed to be here until I died.”

Meghan Burkheimer isn’t certain about her future. She wants to be a good mom to her two children, Jaida, 3, and newborn Julius. She thinks of moving somewhere sunny, because the light somehow eases the pain of bad days.

“Maybe we’ll go somewhere where people don’t know my story,” she said.

No matter where she goes, Meghan Burkheimer will have to find out who she is without Rachel. The two were connected as only sisters can be. With just a glance each could tell what the other was feeling.

“I feel like I’ve completely lost myself,” Meghan Burkheimer said. “I don’t know what I like or what I want. My sister gave me an identity. We were so much alike that she helped me understand myself.”

Rachel’s father, Bill Burkheimer, said he feels like he’s standing on a cliff. Soon he will have no reason to worry about the fate of those who took his girl. He’ll have to stop letting his imagination convince him that Rachel is going to pull into his driveway.

“I have not accepted the fact that Rachel is gone. I know it, but I didn’t accept it,” he said. “Through the trials, she’s still present.”

Bill Burkheimer doesn’t know what will happen next. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do with what he calls a “volcano of anger” that’s been building since his daughter’s death.

“I don’t want to just pop the cork,” he said. “I want to find a safety valve.”

He thinks about working with Everett-based Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims, a support group that has helped him through the ordeal. Maybe, Burkheimer said, he’ll put his energies toward youths involved in athletics.

He’s also got a wedding to plan with his fiance and constant courtroom companion, Lori Pursley.

Webber’s immediate plans are to spend some time alone. She wants to go somewhere quiet, turn off the phone and rest.

Then she’ll consider her options. She knows one day she’ll return to work; she isn’t sure if she’ll continue as a dental assistant.

She may travel to Israel this fall with members of her church. She wants to walk where Jesus walked, to dip her toes in the Dead Sea, to visit the Wailing Wall. Or maybe she’ll spend some time in Montana, Arizona, Hawaii or Alaska.

She’ll hold fast to her faith, asking God each day, “Where do you want me to go in my life?”

Someday, Webber says, her path will reunite her with Rachel. Her faith promises that they’ll be together again in a place where there will be no more suffering or tears.

That’s a promise Meghan Burkheimer believes, too.

“The hard part,” she says, “is living from this day until that day.”


This series, A Family’s Trial, which ends today, represents a departure from the newspaper’s usual way of covering trials.

Rather than focusing on the day’s testimony in the Rachael Burkheimer murder case, the stories instead aimed at telling the story of how the trial was affecting family members, with trial details summarized in a box accompanying the story.

In the two years since Rachel Burkheimer was murdered, her mother Denise Webber, father Bill Burkheimer and older sister Meghan Burkheimer again and again have heard the details of the crime and the events leading up to it.

Through this last three-week-long trial, Rachel Burkheimer’s family graciously spent hours sharing their most personal thoughts and feelings with Herald reporters Scott North, Jim Haley and Diana Hefley. The family did so in the hopes that they could make a difference, by giving someone a chance to make different choices and avoiding becoming a victim.

The family also hoped to reach people like the seven men and one boy accused in her murder. Again and again, those who took part told juries they were afraid to speak up, to call police, to stop the killing.

And the family did it for Rachel.

Readers’ opinions about the coverage have been divided. Some have called or written to demand the newspaper end the series or at least take it off the front page. They say it was too depressing or that there has been too much written about this murder.

Others have said the series gave valuable insight into the aftermath of a crime, which can be as traumatic for survivors as the crime itself.

The Herald would like to thank Denise Webber, Bill Burkheimer and Meghan Burkheimer for their willingness to share so much about themselves.

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