Family seeks solace on trail

SEATTLE – Four days after two women were shot and killed on a Snohomish County trail, their family found solace in those same woods.

They couldn’t hike to Pinnacle Lake, where the bodies were found Tuesday, as they had wanted. That trail was closed Friday afternoon as investigators returned with dogs to search for clues.

Instead, they hiked the Boardman Lake trail just down the Mountain Loop Highway from where Mary Cooper, 56, and Susanna Stodden, 27, were last seen alive.

“It felt really important to go where we were afraid to go,” Elisa Stodden said.

The surviving family members, Elisa, 24, her sister, Joanna, 21, and the women’s father, David Stodden, met with reporters Friday night in the shade of a neighbor’s tree in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood.

With the father in the middle, the three held each other as they laughed and cried in front of the throng of cameras.

They remembered a wife and mother, daughter and sister.

These were women full of energy and joy, they said.

“Both Mary and Susanna were very special people and woke up every morning working to make the world a better place,” David Stodden said.

Cooper was an elementary school librarian. Stodden was an environmental educator who worked for the Audubon Society.

In the two women’s memory, the family urged people to explore the outdoors and asked for love and support during the investigation.

Elisa Stodden said she believes the crime was a “freak accident.”

“They were women who really valued compassion and forgiveness over anger and hatred,” she said.

Mary Cooper had been especially happy Tuesday morning, her husband of 28 years remembered, because she had a rare opportunity to go hiking with Susanna.

While the daughter hiked almost weekly throughout the year, Cooper’s busy school schedule limited how often she could get out.

Their trip to Pinnacle Lakes was a precious opportunity, he said.

“I remember how happy she was,” he said.

Now, the family is surviving on the support they are getting from friends and loved ones.

He said 50 people are in the house at any one time, and he was struggling to find room for all the food people had brought by.

“We’ve been taking it one day at a time, just trying to feel my way through this,” he said.

At Alternative Elementary II School in Seattle’s Sand Point neighborhood, where Cooper was a librarian, teachers, students and parents sought comfort in the library Friday morning.

There, they said, Cooper touched thousands of lives.

They came to pull a book off the shelf, shed tears and share hugs in the librarian’s memory.

“We can’t walk through here without picturing Mary coming back to work on Monday,” school principal John Miner said. “It’s going to be a very long time before that expectation fades.

“It’s an enormously difficult thing to walk through school right now,” he continued. “Particularly in this classroom of hers, our library.”

Miner described Cooper as a teacher “beyond all others” who exemplified the very best of the profession.

At school, she inspired a love of reading in students, and as technology grew into an important resource, she became the school’s tech guru.

“She wore several hats,” Miner said. “But, you know, the hat she wore more often than any other was the hat with a great big smile on it and a warm heart that always embraced both children and adults here.”

Parent Kellie LaRue said it was hard to be in a bad mood around Cooper.

“She chose happiness in every moment,” LaRue said.

Joanna Jonientz-Clearbrook remembers Cooper from an earlier position she held teaching deaf students at Seattle’s View Ridge Elementary in the 1970s.

She said the deaf community was in shock at the death.

“My friends and I were using our pager to communicate with each other and talked about how wonderful she was and we’ll miss her dearly,” Jonientz-Clearbrook wrote in an e-mail.

Miner said Cooper continued to use sign language to work with autistic students at AEII.

“It is so tragic that a loving mother and daughter can’t go for a walk in the woods unharmed,” Miner said. “It is something that is senseless and that none of us can understand at this point.”

Next week, the school will have grief counselors available for children and staff, Seattle school district spokeswoman Patti Spencer said.

Counselors likely will be called back in the fall, when all staff and students return from summer break, Miner said.

Joanna Stodden had a message for her mother’s students, a way to remember her.

“Go check out a book and read,” she said.

There was talk of more tangible memorials, too: trees to be planted in front of the school, or perhaps an invitation to students to return in the fall with a book in hand to give to the library.

A makeshift memorial on the school steps grew Friday, with people dropping off flowers, plants and handwritten notes.

One person left a copy of Shel Silverstein’s children’s classic, “The Giving Tree.”

Near the book, a personal note, written in crayon and pencil, was signed by a child named Bridget.

“Mary was the best librarian,” the note said. “She was very nice. I loved her. She always made me feel good. She helped me when I needed her. I will always think of you, Mary.

“I am so sad. You are the best, Mary,” the note concluded.

Next to the note was a drawing of a crying girl.

With it was a single-word message: “Me.”

Reporter Jackson Holtz: 425-339-3437 or

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