VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) – Wearing red, pink and purple, hundreds of family and community members gathered in Vancouver’s Esther Short Park to remember a mother and daughter killed in a case of domestic violence.
Meshay Melendez, 28, and her 8-year-old daughter Layla Stewart were last seen alive March 12. Their bodies were discovered March 22 in a Washougal ditch. Authorities said Melendez’s former boyfriend, Kirkland Warren, is a “person of interest” in their disappearance and homicides.
Court documents show Warren assaulted Melendez, shot up her apartment and violated a domestic violence protection order in the weeks leading up to her disappearance.
At Sunday’s vigil, Melendez’s friend Makayla Jeter called her genuine and her death “is truly sickening.”
Meshay and Layla’s family did not speak on camera Sunday. But Michelle Bart with the National Women’s Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation read their statement which described Meshay as a caring mother with an infectious laugh who would do anything for Layla.
Bart said “Meshay was always caring, always had a huge heart and always made sure that all her loved ones were good.”
She said this tragedy highlights the need for legislation and reform.
“I’m pissed, this organization is pissed, this family is pissed,” Bart said. “Why do we have to wait until something happens, where there’s blood on our hands? Let’s try to prevent it from happening.”
“Instead of us fighting to have new bills and new laws implemented, we need to turn around and start changing the ones in place in order to make them stronger so things like this don’t continue to happen,” Bart said Sunday.
‘I never wanted to come to one of these again’
Sunday’s event not only honored their memory, it shed a light on the impacts of domestic violence and the lives claimed by it.
“I’m pretty emotional because I never wanted to come to one of these again,” said VPD Sgt. Tanya Wollstein. “I never wanted to have another victim of domestic violence murdered here in Clark County.”
Wollstein, who is with the department’s Domestic Violence Unit, stressed the need for statewide lethality assessments for domestic violence offenders and suggested a constitutional amendment that would allow judges to deny bail for extreme risk offenders along with laws forcing them to participate in monitoring with victim notification.
“I know we have to do more to keep domestic violence victims safe,” Wollstein said. “That’s why I worked on the Tiffany Hill Act.”
The Tiffany Hill Act, named after a Vancouver woman murdered by her estranged husband, grants domestic violence victims a layer of protection by electronically tracking abuse suspects with ankle monitors and alerting victims when they’re nearby.
While the act was not applied in this case, jail records show Warren scored 31 on a risk assessment scale of 1-18 — with 18 being extreme risk.
Senator Lynda Wilson, who helped pass the Tiffany Hill Act, said she is already requesting new legislation since she feels more needs to be done.
“We need to be looking at those high scores and then holding on to the people, because the higher that score, the more chances something drastic or deadly is going to happen to the victims,” Wilson said.
The vigil was organized by NWCAVE and YWCA Clark County “in conjunction with the family” of the slain mother and daughter.
As of Friday evening, Warren was not facing any charges for their disappearance or death. Authorities said Warren had once been in a relationship with Melendez.
Warren is also wanted in Arkansas in connection to the 2017 murder of Curtis Urquhart. Court documents show Warren admitted to shooting the man in the head and dumping him in a ditch.
YWCA provides a 24-hour SafeChoice Domestic and Sexual Violence hotline (1.800.695.0167) and a national 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline (1.800.799.7233). The organization also has a Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence Friends & Family Guide.