PORTLAND — Heidi Pullen Rabbat was getting ready to watch the evening news on Wednesday when her son, who was already at the TV, yelled out to her:
"Mom, it's Cindy."
Pullen Rabbat, an English teacher at Milwaukie High School, rushed over. She had already learned from Facebook that a former student, Jacob Roberts, was the gunman in a shooting spree at Clackamas Town Center the previous afternoon.
But until that newscast, she did not know that one of the two people killed by Roberts was Cindy Ann Yuille, the 54-year-old hospice nurse who had coached and comforted her family in the final weeks of her terminally ill husband's life. Yuille was the one who told them stories to put them at ease, had gently cared for Pullen Rabbat's husband, Richard, as he slipped closer to death, and had counseled Pullen Rabbat about honoring the passage of life.
Pullen Rabbat remembers thinking, "Oh my gosh," she said in an interview Friday night, as she struggled to absorb the strange coincidence of how two people in separate parts of her life could collide in such tragedy.
"I've been to the center of my soul and back with my husband dying," she said, explaining that she was in shock. "I feel so numb."
And so she reached out to her friends, posting Wednesday evening on her Facebook page. She apologized for disappearing from contact for a while, explaining her husband's death Sept. 23 and that she and her son, Gabriel, were trying to "piece our world back into something doable." And then, she wrote, "today I found out that Jacob Tyler Roberts, a former student, shot and killed Richard's Hospice nurse, Cindy Yuille. Cindy was our angel in the final days, an amazing person. But funny, I remember Jacob being so supportive, energetic, and amazing in his own way too."
It's been more than five years since Roberts attended Milwaukie High School -- he transferred to Oregon City High School for his senior year, graduating in 2008. Pullen Rabbat said Roberts hung out with some of her students. She also may have taught him for a semester in his freshman year, but couldn't recall for sure.
But she would let students come into her classroom at lunchtime and play their guitars. Roberts -- whom she knew as Jake, not Jacob -- was one of them, she said. He just seemed like someone who enjoyed high school, she said.
Yuille was easier for her to talk about. Pullen Rabbat noted that she was "an amazing professional, a teeny-tiny spitfire" who had great stories to share. Yuille would handle the logistics of getting a wheelchair or other medical supplies they needed, as well as deliver the emotional support Pullen Rabbat and her husband needed in their choice for him to die at home, Pullen Rabbat said. "She had this confidence of `we can do this.'"
Pullen Rabbat recalled talking with her about one night when she was watching her husband and could sense the end was near.
"I could feel the angel of death in my home. And it was not a scary thing, it was a comforting thing," Pullen Rabbat said. She shared the thought with Yuille, who agreed, saying, "I get it, and it's an honor when you can be in the room with that angel."
It troubled Pullen Rabbat to think that Yuille's work was "to help people say goodbye -- and she didn't get to say goodbye," she said. But she was grateful to the strangers at the mall who stayed with her as she died, noting that that was what Yuille did. "She helped strangers, who became intimate family," she said.