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News / Clark County News

Police: Bodies of missing mother, daughter found near Washougal

By Becca Robbins, Columbian staff reporter, and
Jessica Prokop, Columbian Local News Editor
Published: March 22, 2023, 6:00pm
4 Photos
Law enforcement officials work at the scene along Wooding Road east of Washougal on Wednesday afternoon, March 22, 2023. Authorities found two bodies believed to be those of a missing Vancouver woman and her 7-year-old daughter in a brushy area farther down Wooding Road.
Law enforcement officials work at the scene along Wooding Road east of Washougal on Wednesday afternoon, March 22, 2023. Authorities found two bodies believed to be those of a missing Vancouver woman and her 7-year-old daughter in a brushy area farther down Wooding Road. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Authorities found two bodies believed to be those of a missing Vancouver woman and her 7-year-old daughter in a rural area east of Washougal, police announced Wednesday.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office responded at about 9:40 a.m. to a report of suspicious circumstances. A man walking his dog reported finding what he thought were two “life-sized mannequins” down an embankment in thick brush off Southeast Wooding Road near Sunset View Road, according to the agency.

When deputies arrived about an hour later, they found two people dead. Vancouver police detectives were notified soon after and responded, sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Skidmore said.

The police department tentatively identified the bodies as those of Meshay “Karmen” Melendez, 27, and her daughter, Layla Stewart.

Families members were notified, according to Vancouver police. The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office will release their cause and manner of death. The sheriff’s office’s Major Crimes Unit is investigating the scene where they were found, which Skidmore said is considered a homicide investigation.

“The family is grateful for all the community support, and we ask that people respect the privacy of the family while they process and grieve,” according to a statement from the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence & Exploitation, sent on behalf of Melendez and Layla’s family.

The mother and daughter were last seen the morning of March 12 with Melendez’s former boyfriend, Kirkland C. Warren, according to investigators. Melendez’s mother reported the pair missing Saturday after she couldn’t reach them for their regular video chat session.

Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp said the department considers the missing persons case closed, calling it “a very tragic resolution.”

Kapp was unsure Wednesday evening if Warren, 27, is a suspect in their deaths or if investigators have identified other persons of interest. On Tuesday, police had named Warren a person of interest in their disappearances.

“Today is a very dark day. It’s never easy to get this kind of news, and our heart goes out to the family. But let me make one thing clear, as hard as we all fight as advocates and nonprofits against violence things like this do not need to happen,” said Michelle Bart, president and co-founder of NWCAVE.

Missing persons investigation

Vancouver police had conducted a welfare check on Melendez and her daughter at about 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Springfield Meadows Apartments, 4317 N.E. 66th Ave., after family members reported they hadn’t heard from them since March 11. A friend told the family the pair hadn’t been home in several days, and their dog was inside the apartment barking, a police news release states.

When a family member let officers inside Melendez’s apartment, they found no one inside except for the dog, police said.

Officers learned Melendez, Stewart and Warren stayed the night at a friend’s apartment the night of March 11. They were seen leaving in a burgundy Dodge Charger at about 6 a.m. March 12, according to the news release.

On Sunday, Melendez’s mother found her daughter’s car, a Chrysler 200, in the 7800 block of Northeast Loowit Loop in the VanMall neighborhood. Police seized her car as evidence, the department said.

Also on Sunday, police served a search warrant at Warren’s residence in the 3700 block of Northeast 109th Avenue in Vancouver’s Kevanna Park neighborhood, the department said. Officers arrested Warren on suspicion of tampering with a witness, unlawful possession of a firearm and violating a no-contact order with Melendez.

Domestic violence case

Warren was originally accused of shooting at Melendez’s apartment in the Minnehaha area on Dec. 13. At his initial first appearance March 3 in Clark County Superior Court, he was ordered to not have contact with Melendez. During that hearing, the prosecution said a danger assessment found Warren poses an “extreme risk” to Melendez, with a score of 31 on a scale of 1 to 18.

Meshay Melendez and Layla Stewart

Law enforcement officials work at the scene along Wooding Road east of Washougal on Wednesday afternoon, March 22, 2023. Authorities found two bodies believed to be those of a missing Vancouver woman and her 7-year-old daughter in a brushy area farther down Wooding Road.Police: Bodies of missing mother, daughter found near Washougal
Authorities found two bodies believed to be those of a missing Vancouver woman and her 7-year-old daughter in a rural area east of Washougal, police…
Layla Stewart's auntie, Lashay Taylor, in purple memorial shirt, grieves at a community vigil Sunday for the 7-year-old girl and her mother, Meshay Melendez, in Esther Short Park.Hundreds gather to mourn, honor Meshay Melendez and daughter Layla
Slain mother and daughter Meshay "Karmen" Melendez and Layla Stewart will be remembered for being “so full of energy and life." No matter how bad…
Meshay "Karmen" Melendez and daughter Layla Stewart, 7Records detail timeline in disappearance, death of Meshay Melendez, daughter Layla
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…
Kirkland Warren makes a first appearance on suspicion of murder in the deaths of his former girlfriend, Meshay Melendez, and her daughter, Layla Stewart, as Judge Suzan Clark looks on at the Clark County Courthouse on Monday afternoon, April 3, 2023.Prosecutors will charge Warren with aggravated murder in shooting deaths of Meshay Melendez, daughter Layla
Clark County prosecutors say they plan to charge a Vancouver man accused in the slaying of his former girlfriend and her 7-year-old daughter with aggravated…

He is already charged with drive-by shooting, second-degree assault with a deadly weapon, gross misdemeanor harassment with bodily injury and two counts of fourth-degree assault, all charged as domestic violence crimes. He is also charged with making a false statement for allegedly lying on a gun application. He’s pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Clark County prosecutors also noted Warren has a pending case for a 2017 homicide in Arkansas. Court records show he posted $250,000 bond in that case Dec. 13, 2017, the day after his arrest. A judge in Arkansas revoked Warren’s bond Monday, court records show.

Warren was back in Superior Court on Wednesday on a warrant for the Arkansas case. Through his defense attorney, Darquise Cloutier, he admitted he is the person wanted in Arkansas, but he refused to waive extradition to be turned over to authorities there. A review hearing is scheduled for April 21, at which point prosecutors plan to present a governor’s warrant for his extradition.

In the meantime, Superior Court Judge Robert Lewis ordered Warren be held without bail on the warrant. Warren was being held on $1 million bail in the drive-by shooting case and subject to electronic monitoring if released; those restrictions were ordered Tuesday.

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.

At his March 3 hearing, Warren’s bail was set at $100,000. Clark County prosecutors did not request Warren wear a GPS ankle monitor — for domestic violence offenders who are released pending trial — as part of his restrictions for release, and the court did not order electronic monitoring.

Warren posted bail later that day, court records indicate, and he was released March 8.

Deputy Prosecutor Taylor Knight, who leads the domestic violence unit, said she couldn’t comment on why prosecutors did not request electronic monitoring at that time.

Also March 3, Warren was cited in Clark County District Court for violating the domestic violence protection order by calling Melendez twice from the Clark County Jail, according to court records. That charge was later added to his Superior Court case.


Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the day Warren was released from the Clark County Jail after making first appearance March 3 in Clark County Superior Court. Warren was released March 8. It also incorrectly stated the day an Arkansas judge revoked Warren’s bond in his 2018 murder case. The judge revoked his bond March 17, and the order was filed with the Arkansas court Monday.

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