BREMERTON — There were hugs, tears and prayers as a community came together at a memorial Friday night for 6-year-old Jenise Wright, the little girl with the big smile who vanished last weekend and whose body was found hidden under brush in a wooded area Thursday.
“She would ask me to sit by her on the bus and I would play with her at recess,” said Moana Tuitasi, a classmate of Jenice’s, who attended the vigil. “She was a really nice girl.”
It was hard for anyone to hear that the body found Thursday morning near Jenise’s Steele Creek Mobile Home Park was her remains.
Sheriff’s officials have not released the cause of death, saying only that the county coroner earlier Friday had ruled it a homicide.
“No child deserves this fate, no family deserves this loss,” Kitsap County sheriff’s Lt. Earl Smith said at a news briefing earlier Friday.
On Saturday, Deputy Sheriff Scott Wilson said “some evidence” has been collected, but he would not elaborate.
Jenise was last seen Saturday night at her home. Jenise’s parents have said they would allow Jenise to walk through the neighborhood on her own and thought when they woke up Sunday morning that Jenise was already out playing. When she didn’t return home Sunday night, the parents called police.
The girl’s disappearance shook the tight-knit community.
“You hear about these things on the news all the time,” said Danielle Kraft, a mother who lives in Bremerton. “When it’s in your hometown, it’s so much worse.”
“It’s just very difficult to think that something like this could happen to such a sweet young girl,” said Ruby Tuitasi, Moana’s mother. “I’m trying to explain it to my daughter as best I can.”
Jenise’s mother did not attend the vigil, but asked her bishop to speak on the family’s behalf.
“She’s very thankful for all the prayers that have been offered; she said she’s felt them,” said Bishop Chris Byron of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “But she wanted me to express that for now, it’s too hard to even leave the house.”
Although Jenise’s father has cooperated with the FBI, the family knows there is suspicion about whether he was involved in her disappearance and death.
“That’s very hard,” said Byron. “Because no one knows them. And if they knew them, they’d never have that thought.”
They can only hope that sheriff’s investigators will keep the promise they made Friday.
“Jenise is gone, but we can and will find justice for her,” Smith, of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office, said.
The Washington State Patrol has volunteered the use of their crime lab to help with DNA testing. People in and around Jenise’s neighborhood have been voluntarily giving their DNA samples during the past few days.
The public may also be able to help with the investigation.
Jenise’s body was found in a muddy area, so the suspect likely came home sometime last weekend with muddy boots and clothes. Anyone with information is urged to call 1-800-CALL-FBI.
To see an earlier story, click here.