OAK HARBOR – For two months, Elaine Sepulveda’s family and friends united to bring her home.
On Thursday, they came together again, this time to mourn.
A memorial service for the 15-year-old Oak Harbor sophomore drew more than 250 people, who remembered Elaine’s big heart and warm smile.
Elaine “always put others before herself,” said her mother, Mary Jimenez. “Anyone who needed a hug, smile or an ear to listen they called” her.
Elaine’s body was discovered a week ago after an intense two-month search. Police arrested her boyfriend, James L. Sanders, 18, the same day.
Investigators suspect Sanders killed Elaine and buried her body in his grandfather’s back yard because Sanders believed she was pregnant with his child. He has been charged with second-degree murder.
Elaine’s disappearance and death stunned Oak Harbor. Dozens of volunteers helped look for her, including Kayla Irwin, 17.
“You could go to her anytime and she’d help you,” Irwin said, recalling how she would even call Elaine in the middle of the night to ask for advice.
“She was the first friend I had that told me, ‘I believe in you, and you can do anything,’” said Brittany Heath, 16, a junior at Oak Harbor High School. “Nobody had ever told me that before.”
Those who came to mourn left with small bags filled with dried beans from the memorial, a memento of Elaine’s favorite saying, “cool beans.”
“She said it all the time, and it always put a smile on our faces when she said it,” Mary Jimenez said. “Please hold these beans in your hands and always remember our Elaine.”
Elaine’s family and friends also signed journals and jotted down their memories.
“You will always be remembered in our hearts and in our prayers,” one friend wrote.
The teenager moved from El Paso, Texas, a year ago to join her mother and stepfather, Juan Jimenez, in Oak Harbor.
Elaine, whose family called her Mandi, enrolled at Oak Harbor High school and quickly made friends. In her Spanish class, teacher Chris Ward recalled how Elaine would sing parts of songs by pop stars Shakira and Selena.
“She had a giggle that was contagious,” Ward said, adding that Elaine often helped other students.
“Her time with us was too short, and she will be truly missed,” Ward said.
Elaine’s older sister, Angela Sepulveda, 17, said Elaine’s memory will always be with those who love her.
“I want everyone to remember we’re not saying goodbye,” Angela said. “We’re just saying, ‘See you later, Mandi.’”
Reporter Katherine Schiffner: 425-339-3436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.