Trials take toll on Burkheimer’s mother

Denise Webber knows the pain that’s coming.

It’ll start in her neck, then creep to her shoulders. Her muscles will squeeze her bones, tightening like bands of steel. As the days go by, the pain will spread to her back, to her ribs, and finally settle in her chest, right above her heart.

How could it be otherwise?

Her youngest daughter, Rachel Rose Burkheimer, 18, is dead. On Wednesday, another one of the eight men allegedly responsible went on trial.

For the third time in as many months, Webber, 49, of Marysville sat in court listening to opening statements. That’s when lawyers on both sides get to tell jurors what to expect in the coming weeks.

That’s something Webber already knows too well.

As she did during the first two trials, Webber expects to spend weeks sitting in the second row, with family and friends, as close as courtroom security allows.

As the days pass, she’ll once more hear how her girl fell in with a group of men who shared a fascination for drugs, crime and violence.

She’ll hear the details of how Rachel was kidnapped, beaten and kept for hours in a garage, how Rachel listened as her captors discussed plans for her death.

Webber will hear that her girl was stuffed into a black duffel bag and driven to the rugged hills outside Gold Bar. She knows that in a moonlit clearing Rachel’s killers dug a hole, then ordered her to strip and climb down inside.

Just listening to lawyers provide a bald outline of the evidence was nearly more than Webber could bear. She sat rigid, knuckles nearly as white as the tissue she squeezed, struggling to contain her loss in a trickle of tears.

During a break, Webber raced to the bathroom, locked herself in a stall and surrendered to sobs. She was cried out, and ready for another round, when a woman approached. It was the mother of the defendant, John Alan Whitaker, 23.

Whitaker’s mother, So Un Yang, sobbed and reached out, offering condolences. The women wound up weeping in each other’s arms – two moms locked together by tragedy.

On Wednesday, Webber’s only respite came during the minutes she spent in the hallway, cuddling her grandson, Julius Sterling Burkheimer. He was born three weeks ago, during the trial for John Anderson, the man convicted of shooting Rachel.

Webber takes comfort knowing that her daughter’s last act was to kneel in prayer. She knows Rachel is with God now. Her faith also tells her that one day they will be reunited.

“I look beyond this life,” she said. “I look beyond her grave.”

Today Webber knows where she needs to be.

Rachel was alone with her killers. Alone when she was stuffed into the bag. Alone when she died.

Rachel isn’t alone now. That’s why her mother shows up in court, to listen, to weep, to ache.

Reporter Scott North: 425-339-3431 or

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