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News / Clark County News

Hundreds mourn Vancouver man at vigil

James Rennells was found dead 5 days after going missing

By Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: December 30, 2017, 9:31pm
3 Photos
Rick Bear Montoya, a friend of James Rennells, sings a song for Rennells during a candlelight vigil Saturday near Leverich Park in Vancouver. Rennells was found dead near the park Wednesday after being missing for nearly a week.
Rick Bear Montoya, a friend of James Rennells, sings a song for Rennells during a candlelight vigil Saturday near Leverich Park in Vancouver. Rennells was found dead near the park Wednesday after being missing for nearly a week. Photo Gallery

Candles lit up the end of Northeast Leverich Park Way on Saturday night as hundreds of people gathered to pay their respects to James “Jimmy” Rennells, who was found dead in the area, nearly a week after he went missing.

Friends, family, acquaintances and even people who didn’t know the 41-year-old Vancouver man attended the candlelight vigil to support one another.

Searchers found Rennells’ body in the Leverich Park area Wednesday, by a creek near the Ellen Davis Trail.

“I just don’t understand it,” Rennells’ father, Dan Rennells, said in an interview. “There was no reason for him to be out here that we can conceive.”

James Rennells called family shortly before 10 p.m. Dec. 22 to say he was on his way home from work, but he never made it home.

His father said it appears he died of hypothermia, though an official cause and manner of death has not yet been released by the Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office. Dan Rennells said the toxicology results will likely take weeks.

The Vancouver Police Department has not released any additional information and said the investigation is ongoing.

James Rennells’ sister, Janice Rennells, said she wanted to bring everyone together to let her brother know he is loved.

“He was my best friend,” she said through sobs as she hugged her niece, Kristen Belisle.

Belisle, 30, of Kelso described her uncle as wild at heart and a free soul.

“We are devastated, absolutely devastated. It’s such a tragedy,” she said. “I mean, look at all of these people. He touched all of these people.”

A recovering addict, James Rennells was active in his addiction recovery group, his sister previously told The Columbian.

One man, who identified himself only as James, said Rennells was his sponsee brother.

“He meant the world to me. No matter what, he was always there for me and my other brothers that are my sponsee brothers. He worked the steps. He did what he is supposed to do. He took care of his family. He was there for his baby,” he told the crowd. “But the bottom line is that he’s with God and that’s what counts.”

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Rennells’ cousin, April Dawn Grindle Rennells, who organized the vigil, said her cousin was a “real honest person even in his addiction.”

“The light that was here is not even a fraction of what he illuminated,” said Grindle Rennells, 37, of Vancouver. “He was a smiling beacon no matter the situation.”

His mother, Mary Rennells, told the crowd that her son will never be forgotten.

“I’m just overwhelmed by all the love. It’s just incredible how your support has kept me standing strong,” she told the crowd, adding, “I couldn’t be prouder of my boy.”

People raised their candles and yelled, “Love you, Jimmy!”

His sister released a trio of heart-shaped balloons into the sky while a friend, Rick Bear Montoya of Vancouver, played an eagle honor song on his drum.

“When I see that eagle fly, I know it’s you saying hi. Way high, way high,” Montoya, 42, sang.

“He was a great man, he was a great man,” Montoya said afterward.

Dan Rennells said he didn’t realize how many lives his son impacted.

“His proudest achievement was his (7-month-old) daughter (Jessie Mae),” he said. The little girl has heart problems, but has recently been doing better, Dan Rennells said.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for James Rennells’ family.

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