Family of Oregon mall shooting victim work to prevent gun violence

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PORTLAND — Cindy Yuille’s family — and 4-year-old dog, Jack — will hold a funeral soon for her, about a year after she was killed. She told her family she wanted to be buried in the backyard of their Portland home, but instead her husband, daughter and son have been spreading her ashes all over the world — the Bahamas, Florida, Canada’s Lake Louise.

Yuille loved to travel, so the family planned all those trips before 22-year-old Jacob Roberts shot and killed her at the Clackamas Town Center on Dec. 11, 2012.

Leaving some ashes as they climbed the South Sister near Bend seemed a fitting tribute to a woman who, in her mid-50s, took the lead to the top of Sacagawea Peak in the Wallowa Mountains, leaving men behind her who couldn’t make the trip.

Yuille is still a huge part of the family’s lives. The trees and garden she planted around their Portland home is still the urban jungle forest she intended. Her quilts hang over a window and on the back of the living room couch.

But, her death has changed the focus of her family’s life. Now her daughter and husband spend their free time organizing and lobbying around preventing gun violence.

At first, Jenna Passalacqua, Yuille’s daughter, was reluctant to get involved in politics. Her friend encouraged her, bringing her to a town hall-style meeting about gun violence just a month after the shooting. At the end, her friend pushed her to speak, and she relented, finding that just thanking the people who attended made them stop and pay attention.

She visited Robert Yuille, Cindy’s husband, that week and discovered he had also recently talked publicly about the issue. They decided that they had to keep going.

A year later, they are still committed. They are working with Paul Kemp, the brother-in-law of the other Clackamas Town Center victim, Steve Forsyth, to put together a local group of advocates for responsible gun ownership.

The two are gearing up for the next legislative session and are learning the ins and outs of the system along the way — including the frustration that comes along with politics.

Passalacqua said they almost didn’t testify during the past session, because the bills introduced were too lofty, or too weak.

“Come back next year when you’re ready to introduce some real bills,” Passalacqua said of her attitude at the time.

“You have to be able to compromise with people and not take away their things,” Robert Yuille said.

That’s why their Gun Owners for Responsible Gun Ownership group is targeted to the middle, or the “silent majority” as they call it. They stress that they want common-sense measures, such as “safe storage” laws that hold gun owners accountable for keeping guns locked up and unloaded for storage.

“If the guy that owned the gun that killed Cindy had been responsible enough to lock up his gun, we would not be sitting here today,” Yuille said.

It’s tough for the pair to keep up with full-time jobs, raising 14-year-old Hunter Yuille and focusing on gun issues, but they smile when explaining that not only would Cindy do the same for them, but would do it better.

“I don’t think either of us would have the energy to do this,” Passalacqua said. “I’m exhausted.”

And they find it therapeutic to talk about Cindy Yuille, even though it means revisiting one of their worst days over and over.

“We’re not rehashing,” Robert Yuille said. “We’re living it every day.”

They planned to be at the Clackamas mall Monday for a memorial service and to speak, including Hunter, who hasn’t spoken publicly about his loss before. He’s understandably a little nervous.

Passalacqua took Hunter school shopping at the Town Center because he wanted to go to some stores that aren’t in Portland. But they try to stay away. “It doesn’t look good when you start crying and people start staring at you,” Robert Yuille said.

Over the past year, they say they’ve learned how wonderful the Portland community can be. They ran out of room in the refrigerator in the weeks after the shooting as people poured their sympathy into meals.

Cindy Yuille always cooked — everything made from scratch, except maybe pancakes -- so they appreciated the meals.

The mall also delivered all the stars people filled out as part of the mall’s memorial for the victims. Passalacqua read them all, Robert and Hunter are still working their way through.

“That stuff matters,” Passalacqua said. “It makes an impact. It’s nice to know people really care.”