Kennewick High Class of 1971 remembers murdered classmates at reunion

By Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldAugust 6, 2011 

Seven graduates of the Kennewick High Class of 1971 won't be attending their 40th class reunion this weekend.

It's not unusual for reunion organizers to honor classmates who have died since their graduation ceremonies.

But reunion organizer Debra Blum was astounded to discover that seven of the 80 Kennewick High classmates who have died were slain.

(Update: It turns out one of the seven died after a lengthy illness and one is still alive. Read the story.)

"You expect some of your classmates may no longer be alive when you're planning a 40th class reunion," Blum said. "But I was shocked when I started researching to find people and learned how many had been murdered."

Blum discovered all this when she started gathering reunion information three years ago.

"It was actually one of our beloved teachers, Don Paul, who got me started on all this," Blum said. "I stayed in touch with Mr. Paul (who died earlier this year) after graduation and when I got injured and couldn't work for a while, I needed something to do, so he suggested I start trying to find out where all my classmates were and what happened to them after graduation."

She chose three names of her 914 classmates at random from her yearbook and started searching the internet.

"It was easy and I found them quickly, so I moved on to find three more, and it just took off from there," Blum said. She put together a 2-inch-thick memory book packed with all sorts of information on the Class of 1971.

"But I didn't do all this alone," Blum said. "I had a lot of wonderful help from other classmates and from a Pasco woman who heard what I was doing and wanted to help. She didn't go to our school but she had siblings who did."

It was during Blum's searching she stumbled upon the disturbing fact that seven classmates were violent crime victims.

For some, there were newspaper accounts of the deaths. For others, she was able to find their death certificates that showed they had been murdered.

"And what's even more bizarre, when I discovered all this I suddenly remembered one of the guest speakers at our commencement said in his speech that statistics predict (several) of us would end up murdered," she said. "I have no idea why he would mention such a gloomy thing at a graduation ceremony."

Barry Bergstrom had high praise for Blum's tenacity to bring everyone up to speed on their classmates.

"I had no idea that many had been murdered," said Bergstrom, now a professional musician in Kennewick. "Debra is a force of nature. She put her heart and soul into this research."

Even if the news isn't always good, people like to know what happened to the kids they went to school with, he said.

Blum included all the information she found in newspaper stories, obituaries and death certificates about her fallen classmates in the reunion's memory book.

"I just thought it was important to remember everyone at this reunion," she said. "The ones who have died as well as those of us still living."

The Class of 1971 classmates who have been killed are:

-- Leo Marcell, murdered in 2007, details unknown.

-- Linda K. Moreno, killed along with her 17-year-old daughter, Danielle, in 2005 at home in Kennewick. They were believed shot by James Moran, also a suspect in the 2004 slayings of his estranged wife's parents in Kennewick.

-- Rebecca "Becky" Nash, murdered in 2001 in Tacoma. She was killed in her apartment by a burglar. Timothy R. Burkhart, a suspected serial killer, committed suicide before he could be questioned about her death.

-- Cheri Schumann, killed in 1996, details unknown.

-- Michael Davis, shot to death in 1984 in Spokane.

-- John Dimond, killed in the Tri-Cities in 1976.

-- Mike McMahan, beaten to death in Texas in April 1975. The Texas Tech University student and a friend were abducted and robbed after leaving a Dallas nightclub. They were ordered out of the car and shot. When McMahan called out, his killer returned and beat him with the butt of a shotgun until he died.

Michael Pacheco, a legal assistant and novelist now living in Salem, said McMahan was his best friend in high school.

"At one time I started a novel based on (Mike's) murder," he said. "He was a good friend of mine and I still think about him every now and then. Perhaps I'll finish the novel someday."

This weekend's reunion included a fundraiser Friday night to raise money for Columbia Basin Dive Rescue and the Franklin County Sheriff's SarBot search and rescue unit.

At tonight's dinner and dance at the Shilo Inn hotel in Richland, reunioners will see two videos created by Blum and other committee members.

One video salutes the friends who died and the other is a tribute to the winning sports program at the high school in 1971 -- the last year the sports program was part of the Big 8.

The following year, Kennewick's new high school, Kamiakin, joined the ranks, making it the Big 9.

Laurie (George) Barger of Kennewick is looking forward to reconnecting with the estimated 600 classmates planning to attend one or more of the weekend's events.

"Pasco High was our big rival when we were kids, and though I love the color purple, black and orange is still my favorite," she said. "I think many of us still have a sense of pride being a Lion. I know the older I get, the more important my classmates become."

On Sunday, a family picnic is planned at noon at the east end of Columbia Park.

"These past three years doing research on my class has truly been a labor of love," Blum said. "I've learned both interesting and sad things, and I'm looking forward to making a connection with my classmates and honoring the ones who aren't with us anymore."

Classmate Mike Darrow told Blum in an email this week: "Reunions are meant to be a place to rekindle your high school years and friendships. And if we can remember those who are no longer with us, then the reunion becomes much more than a social gathering, it is an event to cherish."

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service