GRANITE FALLS — Larry Heiser keeps hoping it’s a bad nightmare. He’s hoping he’ll wake up.
For him, Jayme Biendl’s death isn’t real yet. He is sick with grief, in a nightmare that won’t stop.
Biendl, his girlfriend, was strangled Saturday night at the Monroe Correctional Complex
where she worked.
They met as neighbors a few years back, he said Monday. They had been dating about six months.
Biendl was gorgeous, kind and caring, he said. She was “the sweetest, most lovable woman in the world.”
Biendl was well-known and well-loved in Granite Falls, where she grew up and graduated from high school.
About 20 friends and family members gathered Monday at “The Ponderosa,” an insulated gazebo on a friend’s land where Biendl and Heiser loved to spend time together, and with those close to them.
The mourners brought blue, white and pink balloons. They wrote messages on them to Biendl. Then they gathered outside in a big circle and let the balloons drift free in a chorus of good-byes.
“It’s going to take a long time to ever get over this,” said Dege Engstrom, who owns the property. “I hope she’s resting in peace now.”
Earlier in the day, Paula Crouch remembered meeting Biendl when they were both in first grade at Granite Falls Elementary School. Biendl had five younger siblings. They lived less than a mile away from Crouch on the Mountain Loop Highway and often spent time at Crouch’s family home.
Even as a young girl, Biendl was a hard worker, Crouch said.
“She and at least her sister, Lisa, would go berry picking in the summer time,” she said. “She and her sister would come over and help stack firewood. It was a nice rural life.”
They spent summers swimming in the river and running around the woods near their homes, Crouch said. They also rode horses.
Biendl’s love of horses never went away. She cared for two horses and managed the upkeep of her own home on Engebretsen Road.
Crouch is now an administrative services manager with Granite Falls police. She said Biendl in October told her she was concerned about being the only officer working at the chapel. Biendl also shared her concerns with friends at the Granite Falls Eagles Club where she was a member.
Marcel and Dean Grill were among Biendl’s friends at the Eagles Club who said they tried calling her Saturday night. They called once at 9 p.m. and again at 10 p.m. to see where Biendl was; she’d planned to attend a friend’s birthday celebration.
The couple described Biendl as “hard working country girl.”
“Jayme and I would sit over the stove and have our talks,” Marcel Grill said. “She was so happy. She’d finally found the one.”
The pain of her death was felt throughout Monroe as well, Mayor Robert Zimmerman said.
To honor Biendl and her coworkers, the city lowered its flags at half-staff Monday.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the correctional officers and their families,” Zimmerman said. “It certainly has revealed the danger that exists working at the complex.”
The news of Biendl’s death has reverberated throughout Washington state and the law enforcement community around the globe.
Tribute messages proliferated on Facebook, Twitter, law enforcement community pages and the Teamsters website. Condolences came from corrections officers and their families as far away as New Zealand. Hundreds of people joined a Facebook memorial page in Biendl’s honor.
State lawmakers in Olympia sat in silence Monday morning in Biendl’s memory.
The moment of silence followed comments by Rep. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe. He said he got a call early Sunday morning from Vail with “horrific news” of the killing.
“Jayme Biendl was a much loved employee,” said Pearson, pausing to fight back tears. “Officer Biendl, she died serving us.”
Biendl was passionate about her job and loved what she did, Crouch said. She believed in being firm but fair.
She had planned to work at the prison indefinitely, Heiser said.
“She was proud of what she did,” he said. “She was proud of who she was.”
The Eagles Club is planning an official memorial service for Biendl, a spokeswoman said. They are working with her family and have not set a date.
Reporters Jerry Cornfield and Alejandro Dominguez contributed to this story.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.