PORT ANGELES — Bewildered mourners this week embraced the memory of Valerie Claplanhoo, slain Jan. 2 inside her Sequim apartment.
Claplanhoo, 57, lived much of her adult life without material possession yet, without pause, nurtured and sheltered others, friends and family said at remembrance events Sunday and Monday.
Claplanhoo, a Makah tribal member related to the legendary Makah tribal Chairman Edward Eugene Claplanhoo, lived at Sunbelt Apartments in Sequim, where more than a dozen residents recalled her generosity and offbeat humor Sunday in the community room.
On Monday evening, as Martin Luther King Jr. Day drew to a close under frigid skies, more than 50 people bearing lit candles gathered at Veterans Memorial Park in Port Angeles.
Members of the Lower Elwha Klallam, Quileute and Makah tribes led a service punctuated by a Shaker funeral bell’s lengthy toll, the dirge of a drum and tearful chants.
“It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it brought everyone together,” Valerie’s sister, Cindy Claplanhoo of Neah Bay, said Tuesday.
“They were not just homeless people; they were people with a face and a story showing their love and appreciation.”
Her sister would feel “that we should be together,” she said.
Authorities are waiting for an autopsy report expected to indicate a cause of Claplanhoo’s death that Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney-Coroner Mark Nichols said he hopes to receive this week.
The Sequim Police Department’s homicide investigation is ongoing.
Chief Sheri Crain has not released information on Claplanhoo’s death since she was killed.
“Our folks are still working on followup,” Crain said Tuesday in an email.
Sunbelt Apartments, a beckoning “Welcome to Our Home” sign posted in the front yard, is owned by Peninsula Housing Authority and run by Serenity House of Clallam County, which provides services for people who are homeless.
Claplanhoo’s apartment door was adorned Sunday with balloons.
Her nickname “Ish” was encircled by a heart, and “God Speed” scrawled on the white finish.
More than a dozen residents reminisced for an hour about her generosity and offbeat humor.
“Everybody loved her; it’s just shocking,” said Katherine Blanchard, who partnered with Claplanhoo at First Step 20 years ago when both were pregnant, Claplanhoo with one of her three children.
Blanchard’s friend was remembered as a giver who, unbidden, dropped off food-bank supplies at her Sunbelt neighbors’ front doors.
More than once, she gave away her reading glasses.
Another time, shoeless and sockless, she refused to leave an encampment for warmth and a roof over her head. She wanted to make sure a regular visitor was fed — a raccoon.
“This is a girl that lived on the streets a lot of the time,” a woman at the Sunbelt service said.
“She was very street smart. For her to have her own apartment and go down like this is so wrong.”
Tanya Gardner, who said she met Claplanhoo while the two were in recovery, gave Sunbelt remembrance event organizer Becky Ruby a garden-rose bush to plant outside the apartments to honor Valerie’s love of flowers.
“When Valerie said I’m proud of you, she meant it,” Gardner recalled.
The last time Deanna Raenezzamay Luchau saw her was around New Year’s Eve, a day or two after Claplanhoo’s 57th birthday Dec. 30, in the community room dancing by herself.
“She was just happy about life,” Luchau said.
A woman at the memorial Monday who identified herself only as Rita, said she knew Claplanhoo for 25 years.
“She was such a good friend, and she’s still a good friend,” said Rita, bearing a peacock feather, bringing beauty Monday to honor beauty, she said.
“I can’t even sleep,” Rita’s friend, Julius Johnson, said sitting next to her on a park bench.
“I hope they find that son of a bitch, whoever that was.”
Event organizer Brianna Kelly of Port Angeles, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, said she wanted to give people the chance to honor Claplanhoo.
“She was loved by a lot of people, a lot of people across the board,” said Kelly, describing herself as a independent advocate for people who are homeless and addicted.
Lower Elwha Klallam tribal members Thelma Lawrence and Jonathan Arakawa chanted for seven minutes, Arakawa ringing the Shaker bell in regular cadence and Lawrence chanting through sobs, her eyes brimming with tears.
“It just breaks my heart that something like this would happen to her,” Lawrence said.
“All we can ask for is for God to find a way for the person that did this to be rightfully charged.”
Valerie’s daughter, Kish, 34, was at the Monday night service, visiting from her home in Elma.
“She had a lot of shortcomings, but didn’t fall short,” Kish said of her mother.
“She had that ability to stand behind people and see themselves for what they were capable of.
“It’s sad she could never see it in herself.”
Arakawa thanked the crowd for honoring Claplanhoo, telling them to seek solace in one another.
“Seeing you all here is a medicine to the family, a medicine to close friends and relatives of the one who has made her journey home,” he said.
“This comes to show how many lives our loved one has touched.
“Coming together like this makes us even stronger.
“We are uplifting ourselves just as much as we come here to support a community member, a family that has been a part of our community for a number of years.”
Claplanhoo’s family is planning a service May 4 in Neah Bay.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].