SEATTLE — Family members are mourning the deaths of a couple who were fatally shot and found in multiple bags on a West Seattle beach last month — while also voicing concern that cutting police funding, a move that’s recently gained momentum among activists and city leaders, will hinder detectives’ ability to investigate unsolved cases.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office has identified the couple as 35-year-old Jessica Lewis and 27-year-old Austin Wenner. Seattle police found the two near Duwamish Head on June 19 after receiving a call of a suspicious bag on the beach. They also found another bag in the water.
According to the Medical Examiner’s Office, Lewis’ cause of death was from multiple gunshot wounds, while Wenner died of a single gunshot wound. Officials estimated the two died around June 10.
Police have said little about the ongoing investigation. A spokesman for the Seattle Police Department said this week there was “nothing new to report” on the case. No arrests had been made as of Wednesday.
“She was beautiful. A ray of sunshine,” Lewis’ aunt, Gina Jaschke, said this week. “She was a very thoughtful person to others.”
Lewis — who was born in Maple Valley and most recently lived near SeaTac — worked at Laura’s Adult Family Home, an assisted living facility in Everett, where she supported older and developmentally disabled adults, Jaschke said.
“She just had the grace and patience to be able to do that,” she said. “She had a big heart … and was willing to help anyone who needed anything.”
Lewis was also the mother of four children, two who have graduated from high school, one still in middle school and one who’s “old enough to know what’s going on,” Jaschke said. She declined to share their ages.
Wenner, also a Washington native, was from Kent, said Jaschke, adding that she used to call him “Cash.” Lewis and Wenner had been in a relationship for about eight years, she said.
“They had hard times, but they always stuck through it together,” she said. “Never in a million years did I think that was their story. I was just devastated.”
His family “wishes to mourn their son in private,” Jaschke said, though she shared a statement she said his mother wrote.
“He had faith, a big heart, (and) loved the outdoors, country music, campfires, trucks, dogs, Jessica and his family,” Wenner’s mother said in the statement. She declined to share her name, Jaschke said.
Jaschke added that the deaths have made her reflect more deeply on the recent push to cut funding to the Police Department. Fearing unsolved cases will fall by the wayside if the department loses resources, she said she’s hoping city officials will think twice before taking action.
“It’s not just Jessie and Cash that are victims of violent crimes,” she said. “Families want answers and need answers to get some kind of closure, and we’re going to take something like that away from people who have been hurt.”
Her frustration was targeted toward Seattle City Council members, a majority of whom support defunding the Police Department by 50% and reallocating the dollars to other community needs.
“They have no clue what they’re doing,” Jaschke said. “These detectives are trying so hard and I’ve talked to them numerous times … It’s unfathomable to me that that’s even being toyed with.”
While she said she feels for victims of police brutality and those who have died at the hands of police, she says she “won’t be able to heal until (police) catch this person.”
Activists who support the measure say the aim is “defunding the Seattle Police Department and building a world where we trust and believe in community to provide the safety that we need,” Decriminalize Seattle’s Jackie Vaughn said at a news conference last week.
Decriminalize Seattle is one of multiple new coalitions that have emerged during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
“We would love to have closure. And even then it’ll never be the same,” Jaschke said.