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 ones 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 Honeys life as well as his own, Schmitz mother and daughter couldnt help but speculate what may have really happened almost three years ago.
Im 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 couldnt imagine her doing this with a gun. She wasnt around guns, she didnt know anything about guns. I really feel that Denise was against weapons because she didnt 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 wasnt a fighter. She wasnt 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 werent 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 didnt 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, Theres always a possibility that what we have is wrong, but theres 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 didnt have something to do with it? This doesnt 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. Its a real mystery ... I didnt know Bob, but I didnt care for him. I thought if hes good to Denise, thats fine, but he was a man of few words. My daughter was not in love with him, I dont think hes the kind of person shed 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 dont 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 didnt 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 Ive 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 didnt like about him is that he wouldnt sit down and talk about me with it, Brizendine lamented. A mothers daughter is dead, youd think that they would be compassionate and talk to you. I wanted to know her last words, was she crying, was she moaning ... Im her mother, I need to know. I dont care what it was, I need to know. But he said he didnt 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 mothers 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 Denises 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 didnt have the kind of heart to be violent or judgmental. So Im thinking why would he shoot her so close to their wedding?
Brizendine suspects that Hedgers may have revealed to Honey what he knew about Schmitzs 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 theyre married, and in my own heart of hearts, I believe maybe he helped [Denise end her life] and he couldnt 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 wouldnt have been able to talk him into [going to the police]. Thats my thought process. I dont 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 dont 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 its not completely closed in my heart and mind.