A community's compassion

October 30, 2003 11:00 pm
From left, Camillia Randall's mother, Marjorie Reynolds, grandfather Bill Prettyman, aunt Wendy Whiteman and great-aunt Beryl Anderson gather in a bittersweet moment following the conviction of murderer Robert Wigley. (Kent Gray).
From left, Camillia Randall's mother, Marjorie Reynolds, grandfather Bill Prettyman, aunt Wendy Whiteman and great-aunt Beryl Anderson gather in a bittersweet moment following the conviction of murderer Robert Wigley. (Kent Gray).

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

At first, Marjorie Reynolds said, the moans of Crescent City's fog horn were a sad and constant reminder of the daughter she lost here nine years ago.

The sound of the horn foments less ominous feelings today for Reynolds, mother of Camillia Randall, the teen-ager who was brutally raped and murdered here in 1994.

Somehow, the sound of the fog horn began to embrace her, comfort her – much like the community that showed Reynolds and her family so much caring and compassion during the grueling eight-week trial of the man who killed Camillia.

"The churches that brought us meals, the businesses here in town, the individuals who would stop and talk to us – there has been a huge outpouring of love and support," Reynolds said.

Reynolds and other family members left Crescent City yesterday, one day after a Del Norte County Superior Court jury convicted Robert Allen Wigley of first-degree murder in Camillia's death.

Yesterday also marked the ninth anniversary of the discovery of the teen-ager's mutilated body in a remote grove of redwoods off Howland Hill Road.

Randall's family members, who would not comment about the case during the trial, broke their silence once the verdict was announced.

"The thing that bothered me the most is what (Wigley) has taken from my daughter, and all the things he's gotten throughout this (trial)," Reynolds said. "It's important that this man not be able to do something like this again to anyone else."

It was a bittersweet victory for the family members. On one hand, they were happy to find closure after so many years. On the other, they remain still deeply saddened by their loss.

Tears still came quickly to their eyes when Reynolds and her sister, Wendy Whiteman, spoke about Camillia yesterday.

"She was a free spirit. In her heart, she didn't feel there were people in the world like Wigley out there. She just wanted to meet people and enjoy life," Reynolds said.

Camillia Randall was born on May 25, 1976, in Longview, Wash. The eldest of three children, Camillia had two younger brothers.

Whiteman remembered her niece as a toddler who loved to climb into her lap, then quickly somersault away. "She never got enough of that. She'd always laugh and come back for more," said Whiteman.

By the time she was attending Kessler Elementary School in Longview, Camillia, a bright-faced redhead, showed a penchant for baking bread and cookies.

At R.A. Long High School, she excelled in running track, but her interests and hobbies became more artistic in nature. Singing, writing poetry and making beaded jewelry became her new pastimes.

Although Reynolds said Camillia never gave her any trouble, she became more headstrong as a teenager, always determined to do things her own way.

"She was a very special girl," said Reynolds. "It's just that during those teen-age years she wanted to find herself ... you know how teen-agers are."

Part of Camillia's search to find herself led her on some hitchhiking trips – something her family tried hard, but in vain, to discourage. Whiteman said short of locking her in a room, there didn't appear to be any way to stop her.

At 17, Camillia moved to Ashland, Ore., to live with Whiteman. For a time she worked at a McDonald's restaurant in Ashland. She also worked sometimes at her aunt's flower shop.

Both Reynolds and Whiteman were quick to point out that reports of Camillia being homeless were unfounded. Ashland police listed Camillia as a transient because she did not give them a home address when she was asked to stop selling her jewelry on city sidewalks.

"She never lived on the streets. She always had a home," Reynolds said. Whiteman added, "If she stayed away from home at any time, it was because she wanted to – not because she had to."

Camillia's final journey was a solitary hitchhiking trip from Ashland to Guerneville, Calif., where she planned to meet up with friends.

Two men from Brookings picked up the teen-age hitchhiker in Grants Pass and dropped her off in Crescent City.

Here, on Oct. 26, 1994, Camillia's journey – and her life – ended.

Many of Camillia's family, including Reynolds and Whiteman, held vigil at the courthouse every day during Wigley's eight-week trial.

"If we had been closer to where we live, the courtroom wouldn't have been big enough to hold all our family," Reynolds said.

During the trial, Camillia's relatives shared a rental home in Crescent City. On Wednesday night, hours after the verdict was returned, that house was crowded with nearly 20 family members.

"When he (Wigley) said nobody would miss her ... well, he was wrong."

The close-knit family, still sporting lapel pins with Camillia's image on them, said the family's presence in court every day was a reminder to Wigley of what he had done.

Reynolds and Whiteman appeared tired yesterday as they made a final sweep of the house they called home for eight weeks.

Camillia's great aunt, Beryl Anderson, picked up errant pieces of paper off the floor. Another family member vacuumed while another wiped down the counter tops.

After a brief reflection, Whiteman said, "It's hard. Cammie and her mother were always together. I thought they were joined at the hip."

That relationship was revealed to a teary-eyed jury during the final moments of the trial when District Attorney Mike Riese read to them the final page of Camillia's diary – written in Crescent City just a couple of hours before she died:

"I'll sleep on the ocean tonight. I tried calling aunt, but no one's home. I hope all is well. Tomorrow is Mom's birthday. Happy birthday, Mom. Best wishes. Feel sort of sad."