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News / Clark County News

Friends, family mourn slain Vancouver mother and daughter

Meshay Melendez and Layla Stewart buried together in single casket

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 19, 2023, 6:50pm
6 Photos
People fill an Evergreen Memorial Gardens chapel on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, for the funeral for Meshay Melendez and Layla Stewart.
People fill an Evergreen Memorial Gardens chapel on Wednesday, April 19, 2023, for the funeral for Meshay Melendez and Layla Stewart. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

During a Vancouver memorial service Wednesday, family and friends recounted the way Meshay Melendez was a friend to anyone she met and her 7-year-old daughter, Layla Stewart, was constantly asking questions.

The private service at Evergreen Memorial Gardens began at 3 p.m. More than 100 people filled the room and spoke for about an hour when the chaplain opened the podium up to anyone who wanted to share memories of the pair. The crowd then participated in a procession to their gravesite.

The ceremony came nearly a month after their bodies were found, on March 22, in a rural area east of Washougal.

As photos of the two throughout their lives played during a slide show, people could be heard crying and laughing. The area where the single white casket the mother and daughter shared sat was adorned with photo collages and a large floral bouquet in the shape of wings. Many who attended wore clothes with their photos on them.

22 Photos
A painting of Meshay Melendez, right, and her daughter Layla Stewart, sits on the ground at the front of the room Wednesday, April 19, 2023, during the funeral for Meshay Melendez and Layla Stewart at Evergreen Memorial Gardens.
Funeral for Meshay “Karmen” Melendez and Layla Stewart Photo Gallery

Friends said Melendez’s friendship came without judgment, while family recalled how she could give them attitude.

“Meshay, she lived her life unapologetically, and that’s what I truly admire,” a cousin said. “I wish I took more pictures. All the pictures I have with her that are recent are because she grabbed my phone out of my pocket. So cherish the people that you love. Take more pictures, because these are the only memories I have of my cousin and Layla.”

The 27-year-old Vancouver mother and her daughter were last seen the morning of March 12 with Kirkland Warren, a former boyfriend who had been barred by court order from having contact with Melendez in connection with an earlier domestic violence case, according to investigators. Melendez’s mother reported them missing March 18 after she couldn’t reach them for their regular video chat session.

The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office determined both died from gunshot wounds to the head. Their deaths were ruled homicides, meaning they resulted from another person’s deliberate action. The rulings do not make any judgments about criminal culpability.

Warren pleaded not guilty Monday to aggravated murder charges in connection with their deaths. His trial is scheduled for June 12.

Michelle Bart with the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation said Wednesday, “Today is all about the girls. Tomorrow it’s about the justice.”

Other friends said Melendez’s door was always open and they could lean on her in hard times.

“It’s really hard right now, because in a moment like this, Meshay would be my rock. She would be who I would go to,” one friend said. “And I just keep trying to say, ‘You will be strong.’ I’m the crazy one, and she would tell me to calm down. So I’m trying to let that be her essence, just to keep me calm.”

Memorial Fund

National Women's Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation has established a Memorial Fund for Meshay "Karmen" Melendez and Layla Stewart.

• Businesses and/or individuals wanting to support the family can send cards or checks to National Women's Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation (NWCAVE)
Make checks payable to NWCAVE
Memo: Meshay and Layla Memorial Fund
P.O. Box 872494
Vancouver, WA 98687
• Businesses wanting to provide inkind support (i.e. catering for funeral, printing, etc) may do so by contacting Michelle Bart at NWCAVE, info@nwcave.org or 360-852-8019.
• Direct funeral donations can be made by contacting Scott at Evergreen Memorial Gardens Vancouver, 360-892-6060.
• For those wanting to make an online donation, a GoFundMe has been set up for the family.

They also described her daughter as fun-loving and caring. Some said she also loved scary movies.

“Layla was my daughter’s first friend, first everything,” another friend said. “It’s unbelievable to me, because I never would’ve thought I’d have to go on without both of them. I hope one day we all can find some type of peace.”

“(Melendez) gave me the honor of being an aunt and gave birth to the most beautiful soul I will ever know,” another friend said. “I wish I had enough time while you were here to express that I loved you so, so much. And Layla, thank you for always annoying me with your questions.”

Many said they would continue to carry Melendez and Layla with them.

“I’m going to miss you every day,” Alaysia Atkins said of Melendez. “I’m going to miss her laugh more than anything, her goofy little laugh. I’m going to keep laughing for her.”

Timeline in Meshay Melendez, Layla Stewart case

The following information comes from court records filed in Clark County Superior and District Courts and Jefferson County Circuit Court in Arkansas, as well as police news releases. None of the allegations or charges have been proven in a court of law; all cases are pending.

  • Nov. 27, 2017: Kirkland C. Warren shoots his passenger, Curtis Urquhart, with a 22-caliber handgun, after Urquhart repeatedly asks for money, and dumps his body in a ditch near Stuttgart, Ark. Warren later admits to shooting Urquhart, but he tells investigators he feared for his life.
  • Dec. 12, 2017: Warren is arrested in Arkansas in connection with the November homicide.
  • Dec. 13, 2017: Warren posts $250,000 bond in the homicide case and is released.
  • Feb. 7, 2018: Criminal charges of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse are filed in the Arkansas case.
  • 2020: Vancouver police investigate Warren for possessing a stolen semi-automatic handgun. Officers contact him, and he surrenders it. The firearm remains in evidence.
  • March 31, 2021: Warren lies on an application to buy a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun at SafeFire in Camas. He says he is not under indictment for a felony, when he has the pending murder case in Arkansas. His application is denied.
  • Dec. 13, 2022: Warren and Meshay Melendez argue at her Minnehaha area apartment. He subsequently leaves and shoots at Melendez’s balcony window, as she looks outside.
  • Dec. 23, 2022: Melendez calls 911 to report Warren assaulted her. She also reports the shooting from 10 days prior.
  • Feb. 3, 2023: Law enforcement interviews a friend who was present during the shooting and corroborates Melendez’s account.
  • Feb. 17, 2023: Melendez meets with investigators and recants her earlier statement. She says she lied about the shooting and claims she and her friend have mental health and drug issues, to explain away their earlier statements. She wants assurances Warren won’t be arrested. Investigators deem this to be suspicious.
  • March 2, 2023: Vancouver police arrest Warren.
  • March 3, 2023:Warren makes a first appearance in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of second-degree domestic violence assault, drive-by shooting, making a false statement, harassment and possession of a stolen firearm, between the series of alleged incidents. Clark County prosecutors say a danger assessment found Warren poses an “extreme risk” to Melendez, with a score of 31 on a scale of 1 to 18. They also note the active homicide case in Arkansas. They ask Warren be held on $100,000 bail. Judge Suzan Clark grants the prosecution’s request, citing the nature of the allegations and the open Arkansas case. Clark also orders a domestic violence no-contact order with Melendez. Hours later, Warren violates the domestic violence no-contact order by calling Melendez twice from the Clark County Jail. He suggests she’s responsible for his arrest and needs to get his charges dropped. Melendez says she is trying to get the charges to go away. Warren says he’s not going back to Arkansas. Warren posts bail later that day. But he is cited in Clark County District Court for violating the domestic violence no-contact order with Melendez.
  • March 6, 2023: Warren appears in custody in District Court on the citation. Vancouver police Sgt. Deb Libbey, who authored the probable cause affidavit, asks the court to order Warren wear a GPS monitor if released and be subject to higher bail. Judge Kristen Parcher orders $10,000 bail and electronic monitoring, for domestic violence offenders who are released pending trial.
  • March 7, 2023: The District Court case is dismissed, and the allegations are later added to Warren’s Superior Court case. He is not fitted with a monitor before the case is dismissed.
  • March 8, 2023: Warren is released from the jail.
  • March 11, 2023: Melendez, Layla and Warren stay the night at a friend’s apartment in the VanMall neighborhood.
  • March 12, 2023: Melendez and Layla are last seen that morning with Warren, leaving in his burgundy Dodge Charger.
  • March 17, 2023: A judge in Arkansas revokes Warren’s bond in his 2018 murder case.
  • March 18, 2023: Melendez’s mother reports her and Layla missing after she can’t reach them for their regular video chat session, and friends express concern over being unable to contact them for a week. Vancouver police conduct a welfare check on Melendez and Layla at their Minnehaha area apartment. They are not there.
  • March 19, 2023: Melendez’s mother finds her daughter’s car, a Chrysler 200, in the 7800 block of Northeast Loowit Loop in the VanMall neighborhood. Vancouver police serve a search warrant for Warren’s vehicle and residence in the Kevanna Park neighborhood, and he is arrested. Vancouver police issue a missing persons bulletin to the public.
  • March 20, 2023: Warren appears in Superior Court on new allegations of tampering with a witness, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and a protection order violation. Clark County prosecutors ask that Warren be held without bail or that his bail increase from $100,000 to $500,000. Judge John Fairgrieve postpones the hearing a day and asks the prosecution for more information about the basis for the new allegations. He does not make a decision on bail. Warren remains in custody. The Arkansas judge’s order to revoke Warren’s bond is filed with Jefferson County, Ark., Circuit Court.
  • March 21, 2023: Warren appears in Superior Court on the new allegations. Fairgrieve finds probable cause. Clark County prosecutors ask Fairgrieve to order Warren be held without bail or increase his bail from $100,000 to $1 million and order he wear a GPS ankle device if released. Fairgrieve orders the $1 million bail and electronic monitoring. Vancouver police name Warren a person of interest in Melendez and Layla’s disappearances. Investigators also release descriptions of the involved vehicles.
  • March 22, 2023: Warren appears in Superior Court on a warrant for the Arkansas case. He admits he is the person wanted in Arkansas, but he refuses to waive extradition to be turned over to authorities there. Judge Robert Lewis orders Warren be held without bail on the warrant. Two bodies are discovered down an embankment in thick brush off Southeast Wooding Road near Sunset View Road east of Washougal. The Vancouver Police Department tentatively identifies them as Melendez and Layla.
  • March 26, 2023: About 300 people gather in Esther Short Park’s Propstra Square to honor Melendez and Layla. The vigil is hosted by the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation and YWCA Clark County, in conjunction with the family.
  • March 31, 2023: The Vancouver Police Department announces Warren is facing two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Melendez and Layla. The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office also announces it had determined both Melendez and Layla died from gunshot wounds to the head.
  • April 3, 2023: Warren appears in Superior Court on suspicion of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Melendez and Layla. Prosecutors announce they intend to charge Warren with aggravated first-degree murder. If convicted, he would be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
  • April 12, 2023: Warren's wife, Monet Tyler-Warren, 26, is charged in Multnomah County Circuit Court in Oregon with first-degree aggravated theft, first-degree theft, aggravated identity theft and identity theft. She's accused of stealing money while working at a Portland credit union and transferring it to other accounts, including one in Melendez’s name.
  • April 17, 2023: Warren pleads not guilty to aggravated murder charges in the fatal shootings of Melendez and Layla.
  • April 19, 2023: More than 100 people attend a private memorial service at Evergreen Memorial Gardens for Melendez and Layla, followed by a procession to their gravesite.
  • May 9, 2023: Warren pleads not guilty to two counts of violating a protection order, one count of tampering with a witness and one count of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. The new charges are tied to his drive-by shooting case. Prosecutors had previously amended the information in that case, but Warren had not yet been arraigned on the added charges.

The burial was followed by a reception, where food and two large cakes were donated by local businesses. People can continue to donate to a GoFundMe that was set up for the family at gofund.me/c06e2407 or mail donations to NWCAVE at P.O. Box 872494, Vancouver, WA 98687.