The Vancouver murder and suicide that took the lives of a former local couple undoubtedly resulted in grief for those who knew them. But for one family, the death of Cheryl Honey and Robert Hedgers tore open a healing wound, bringing forth much emotion, speculation about their own loved one’s death, and a hunger to discover the truth.

On April 24, it was discovered that Honey, 57, was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest and left arm, and Hedgers, 51, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. The couple had just become engaged on March 29.

According to family members, police believe Honey died in the house Sunday, April 21. Hedgers’ body was discovered in the backyard, his loyal dog standing by his side. Police were responding to a requested welfare check from Hedgers’ employer.

Last week, Phyllis Brizendine told the Observer that her late daughter, Denise Schmitz, dated Hedgers for three to six months in 2010. She said Schmitz and Honey were best friends.

On Dec. 31, 2010, Schmitz died from a gunshot wound to her right chest. Brizendine and Schmitz’ daughter, Rachel, were told that the fatal shot was self-inflicted. But upon learning the news that Hedgers had taken Honey’s life as well as his own, Schmitz’ mother and daughter couldn’t help but speculate what may have really happened almost three years ago.

“I’m not 100 percent sure of what happened,” said Brizendine, who explained that at the time of her death, her daughter was at a low point in her life. She had undergone back surgery and was struggling with her medications when she fell and hit her head, warranting a trip to the emergency room.

“That night she was in the hospital and cut her head, she was on high pain drugs,” remembered Brizendine, who stated that her daughter had talked about “wanting to be with God.”

Hedgers was at the hospital with Schmitz, and Honey called the facility with concerns about Schmitz’ mental state. 

“She loved Denise so much,” Brizendine recalled. “All the times I had to take her to the hospital and medical facilities, Cheryl was always there.”

Schmitz was eventually released, and Hedgers brought her back to his house in rural Long Beach.

Rachel Schmitz recalled what happened next. “As soon as she went home, she supposedly gets a loaded gun from nightstand drawer, it was loaded. He went outside to get her cigarettes from the car, came back in and a bullet flew through kitchen, just missing him. He heard her on the other side of the door saying ‘Oh God, oh God.’ The door was locked, she opened the door and fell out.”

A two-shoot suicide

The family was told that two shots were fired, with the second shot hitting Schmitz in the right side of her chest.

“None of us could imagine Denise doing something this final,” said Brizendine. “We couldn’t imagine her doing this with a gun. She wasn’t around guns, she didn’t know anything about guns. I really feel that Denise was against weapons because she didn’t like real violence or anything like that. She never screamed at people or called them names or anything like that. She could pick at you or push your buttons, but she would never fight you. She wasn’t a fighter. She wasn’t a violent person, whatsoever. She never talked about guns with me, never.

“She had told me that they were going to go target shooting practicing two or three months before, but it was not like her to do that. She was into motorcycles, church, AA, and being with her grandchildren ... She said that Bob had a lot of guns and they were going to go target practicing. I never knew if they went or not.”

Rachel Schmitz echoed the same sentiments.

“My mom had emotional issues. But me and my sister both thought that if she would have killed herself it would have been with medicine, honestly. She never owned a gun, she never touched guns. They weren’t her thing.”

Schmitz’ mother and daughter said Denise had tried to take her life before, but explained that her actions were a cry for help and actually did not pose a threat to her life.

Brizendine noted, “The cop did ask her ‘Who did this?’ and she said, ‘I did.’ In my heart of hearts, I feel she begged him [Hedgers]. She was suffering a long, long time, and I believe she begged him to do this. At the time, I thought of it, but I didn’t go any further with it.”

This week, Brizendine said she was in the process of contacting law enforcement agencies in Pacific and Clark counties to obtain information about the gun that was used, as well as more detailed information about the evidence that was recorded.

According to Pacific County Coroner David Burke, the evidence did not point to anything other than a suicide.

Burke added, “There’s always a possibility that what we have is wrong, but there’s no indication of anything other than a suicide. ... Witnesses would have to be not telling the truth.”

Family had doubts at the time

Brizendine said the family questioned Hedgers’ role in Schmitz’ death. One detail that raised concern is the fact that Schmitz was right-handed and she was shot in the right side of her chest, which seemed to be an awkward position to hold a gun. 

“My son and my grandson said, ‘Are you sure he didn’t have something to do with it? This doesn’t seem right.’”

Brizendine said she asked Hedgers if she could go to his house to see where she died and he allowed her to do so.

“At the time, all of us could not believe Denise would do this to herself,” she explained. “It was such a shock. And we accepted it.”

Brizendine said she only saw Hedgers six or eight times while he was dating her daughter. “It’s a real mystery ... I didn’t know Bob, but I didn’t care for him. I thought if he’s good to Denise, that’s fine, but he was a man of few words. My daughter was not in love with him, I don’t think he’s the kind of person she’d be in love with. But she was changing her life and doing good things for herself ... what she told me was ‘I want to feel wanted again.’”

“I never thought she did it herself,” said Rachel Schmitz, who described Hedgers as someone who gave her “the heebie-jeebies” and acted weird. “But we tried to keep the peace.”

Brizendine recalled that there were a couple rough patches in Schmitz and Hedgers’ relationship. “He was disrespectful and they broke up a couple times. He had said very personal things that hurt her feelings.”

She speculated, “I don’t think he would have killed her, just up and done it. In my heart, I feel that she begged him and begged him and begged him [to shoot her] and that she didn’t want to do it because she was a Christian.

“I know where she is and where she wanted to be ... she wanted God to take her home. She did have happy times in her life, but she was the only person I’ve known that struggled, truly struggled to make it day to day. And as a mother, I struggled with her.

“One thing that puzzled me and I didn’t like about him is that he wouldn’t sit down and talk about me with it,” Brizendine lamented. “A mother’s daughter is dead, you’d think that they would be compassionate and talk to you. I wanted to know her last words, was she crying, was she moaning ... I’m her mother, I need to know. I don’t care what it was, I need to know. But he said he didn’t know because he was busy cleaning up the blood. He was never compassionate to sit down with me to talk about things.”

Rachel Schmitz said problems also arose when Hedgers refused to give her mother’s necklace to her daughter.

According to Brizendine, Honey took care of Schmitz’ memorial, and had plans to write a book based on Schmitz’ journals, “Denise always wanted to write a book about her life. She was a great writer and put things into words really well.

“When I hear that he killed this lady, Cheryl, in my mind was the fact that I know Cheryl. She was Denise’s best friend. To my knowledge, she was not an alcoholic, she was a very upcoming person in the community, very loving and kind, almost to the point of naive. She just didn’t have the kind of heart to be violent or judgmental. So I’m thinking why would he shoot her so close to their wedding?” 

Pre-marriage confession?

Brizendine suspects that Hedgers may have revealed to Honey what he knew about Schmitz’s death and that ultimately lead to their deaths. 

“I know people confess things before they get married, they come clean with things,” she explained. “People tell secrets to each before they’re married, and in my own heart of hearts, I believe maybe he helped [Denise end her life] and he couldn’t live with it. I think he really loved her [Honey] and cared for her and wanted to come clean with it to her. And she was not the person that would say that was OK or that she would move on from it. If something like this would have happened, Cheryl would have been an emotional wreck. She loved Denise with all her heart. I know Cheryl well enough that she would have been able to go to the police if she wouldn’t have been able to talk him into [going to the police]. That’s my thought process. I don’t know why else he would kill her ... It could be that it ate at him and ate at him.”

Brizendine said she got the impression Hedgers and Honey were happy together in Vancouver, as Hedgers had been out of work and had secured a good job.

“I feel really heartbroken that poor Cheryl had to die. She never wanted to die, she was a very happy individual and I don’t know why he took her life. It just bothers me and puzzles me. Why would you take the life of a person that had such a zest for living?

“It still haunts me,” Brizendine concluded. “There are still things about this that I feel it’s not completely closed in my heart and mind.”

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