LYNNWOOD — Jason Knoke saw his little sister Sherry Harlan for the last time on Christmas Eve.
It was his young daughter’s birthday, and Harlan brought her niece a pink hooded sweatshirt with a Harley-Davidson logo.
The girl loved her aunt’s gift so much she refused to take it off and ended up getting cake all over it.
About a week later, concerned friends reported Harlan, 35, of Everett, missing when she didn’t show up for work at JC Penney at Alderwood mall.
Harlan’s remains were found Jan. 7 near Gold Bar. Her ex-boyfriend, Eric James Christensen, 40, was charged Friday with first-degree murder.
On Saturday evening, loved ones gathered outside JC Penney to talk about the way Harlan filled this world with light, not about the way she left it.
Dozens of candles flickered in the hands of co-workers, friends and family members who came to honor Harlan’s memory. Even for those who only knew her briefly, there was much to cherish.
Friends described her as a person who treated everyone with kindness and was always ready to help others. She had lots of friends. Her smile lit up the room everywhere she went.
Her laugh was impossible to forget, Knoke said.
It started with a kind of bray, then turned into a snorting sound, infecting everyone around her with laughter, he said.
As her big brother, he always tried his best to protect Harlan. And that one time he hit her with a toy some 30 years ago? He still regrets that.
She was like a best friend to her mom, Cheryl Thomas of Monroe. She loved going to the beach, and the two took trips to the Oregon Coast together.
“She sparkled. She was like the sunshine of your life,” Thomas said.
Harlan volunteered at race tracks in Monroe, said Kathleen Morrisson of Sultan, a close friend of Thomas.
She lived in Hawaii for some time and served in the Army.
She was a happy person who saw the good in people, even when there wasn’t much to see.
Harlan’s loved ones want to lay her to rest, and they hope for justice.
Jealousy appears to be Christensen’s motive for what Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson described as Harlan’s “savaging.”
Prosecutors allege Christensen stabbed Harlan multiple times at her apartment Jan. 2, dismembered her body, then tried to hide the remains at multiple locations near Gold Bar.
Christensen was arrested Jan. 7 after detectives found evidence at his home that they believe links him to Harlan’s killing. Among other things, his shoes match a bloody footprint found at her apartment, according to court papers.
Detectives also say they have receipts and video surveillance showing Christensen purchasing mops, bleach and other items they say he used in a failed attempt to clean up her apartment and hide the killing.
Within days of Christensen’s arrest, one of his friends decided to cooperate with the investigation. He told detectives he’d helped hide Harlan’s remains, and led detectives to shallow graves.
Christensen has served prison time for a sex offense and for shooting a rifle at another former girlfriend. If convicted of killing Harlan, he’ll face an automatic life sentence under the state’s persistent offender law.
He is jailed on $2 million bail, but prosecutors want that increased to $5 million.
Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452, firstname.lastname@example.org.