Longtime Mount Baker High teacher remembers Mandy Stavik
More from the series
More on the Mandy Stavik case
Read about the arrest in the Mandy Stavik murder, plus other coverage of her 1989 disappearance.
In the three decades since Amanda “Mandy” Stavik vanished while jogging near her Acme home in 1989, her murder has devastated those who knew her, gripped the public’s attention and frustrated law-enforcement officers as they searched for answers.
With the announcement last week that an Everson man was arrested in connection with her rape and murder, those who knew Stavik or were connected to the case said they felt a surge of memories and emotions. Members of her immediate family have asked for privacy in the days following the arrest of Timothy Forrest Bass, 50, who at the time of Stavik’s slaying lived about a mile away on the same rural road off Highway 9.
“I knew that someday it would emerge who the perpetrator was,” said Jeff Margolis, owner of Everybody’s Store in nearby Van Zandt. His gas station, deli and general store is a gathering place for those in the close-knit South Fork Valley.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “And it’s not over yet. He has to be tried.”
A 1989 graduate of Mount Baker High, the 18-year-old Stavik was home on Thanksgiving break from her freshman year at Central Washington University. She went for a run on the Friday after the holiday and never returned.
Following an intense search, her unclothed body was found three days later along the south fork of the Nooksack River. She drowned, and she may have been alive when she was dumped into the south fork’s frigid water.
Described as a vivacious and gregarious young woman, Stavik played saxophone in band and was an honors student as well as an athlete and cheerleader. She played basketball and softball, and ran cross-country and track. Some 900 people attended her memorial service, and “Mandy’s Song” was recorded to raise money for an endowed scholarship in her name at Mount Baker High.
“I just remember her as a big presence in the band room, a leader,” said her former teacher Doug Sutton, who’s in his 36th year as band director at Mount Baker.
“She was a high achiever,” he said. “She wanted to do well in everything she did. She had it all going for her; she had a bright future ahead of her.”
Many current and former local residents took to social media with references to Stavik when the story of Bass’s arrest broke Wednesday morning.
“This has been a small raw spot in my heart for years,” said Amber Dawn, formerly of Acme, on Facebook. “I think that I was in seventh grade at Mount Baker when this happened in my home town. Mandy had just graduated and so I had never met her but this event opened my eyes to the ugliness and evil in the world. Mandy’s mom, Mary, was my bus driver ... .”
Vicki Haggen of Bellingham is among the many local residents who have been haunted by the case. Stavik worked for Haggen at the Whatcom Family YMCA.
“A horrible thing,” Haggen said via Facebook Messenger. “This case has personally plagued me for years. The shock and tragedy of it hit us all hard. We see things like this on TV or in the news, but when it’s someone you know, there is a painful hole created that can’t be filled. She was an amazing young woman with a great future that was taken away by a sick, demented animal. I’m grateful to those dedicated to finding her killer, but it will never make sense.”
Jen Lamb of Bellingham remembers Stavik from the local Y.
“Mandy was one of my favorite counselors back in my YMCA camp days. This is amazing news,” Lamb wrote on Facebook.
Stavik relative Skye Elijah, a former Washington resident who lives in San Francisco, praised the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook. She was one of several people who noted that Stavik’s murder has made Thanksgiving an emotionally difficult time.
“My family has been waiting 28 years for Mandy’s killer to be found,” Elijah wrote. “I grew up in the wake of grief her murder left behind and my earliest memories are of her palpable absence at holidays and family gatherings.”
Margolis said he chatted with Stavik’s mother a few weeks ago at Thanksgiving.
“It was just awful,” he said. “I remember the day very well. Now it appears that (her killer) was a familiar person. I vaguely remember that fellow.”
Several former classmates at Central Washington University in Ellensburg shared their memories of Stavik this week.
Paul Twibell of Alki said on Facebook that he was at Central in 1989.
“Such a sad memory,” he said. “Just last year I saw that the tree we planted in her memory is still outside Sparks Hall. I pray this will help her family.”
Dan Baxer, who’s now a juvenile probation counselor supervisor at King County Superior Court, said he was dating a woman in Stavik’s dorm.
“We were all just shocked about the disappearance and for myself it impacted my choice to go into the criminal justice system as my profession,” he said via Facebook Messenger.
Sheriff’s officials have pursued the case relentlessly for nearly three decades, and the unsolved slaying haunted many detectives, said Sheriff Bill Elfo. The investigation spanned the tenure of three sheriffs – Elfo, Dale Brandland and Larry Mount – and several current and former detectives flanked Elfo at the Wednesday afternoon press conference to announce Bass’s arrest.
“It was one of the best moments of my professional career when we got to inform her mother that we were making an arrest,” Elfo said Wednesday.
Elfo said he wanted to keep their conversation private.
“I’ve kept in contact with her over the years,” he said. “She was overwhelmed and overjoyed after all these years that there’s some resolution.”
Mount, who served as sheriff from 1979-1992, spoke Friday by phone from his home in Arizona.
“I just knew she was well-loved in the community and I knew her mother was greatly stressed regarding what was happening. It was very frustrating for us to not be able to completely resolve it in our time frame. I commend Sheriff Dale Brandland and Sheriff Bill Elfo, they carried on and they all kept working on it. And I know when I talked to several investigators, they were following up on different leads. I was encouraged they were being persistent.
“I want to commend all the investigators through the years, Sheriff Brandland and Sheriff Elfo, for not letting it die,” Mount said.
Former sheriff’s Deputy George Sherry said he was on duty when the report of Stavik’s disappearance was broadcast over emergency channels. Authorities at the time feared a kidnapping.
“I was working the west side (of Whatcom County) and the east side car took the report,” Sherry said. “I remember the radio traffic and knew in my head it didn’t sound good. One of the saddest days in my time as a deputy.”
Craig Arant, who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, was a search and rescue volunteer at the time.
“I was on many high-profile searches, and I was on this search back in 1989,” he wrote on Facebook. “I remember it very well. I was searching for days, and was not far away when her body was discovered. It rocked our community back then.”
Kori Olsen of Bellingham said she was 13 when Stavik disappeared. Her mother worked for the Sheriff’s Office and several of her relatives were search and rescue volunteers who helped try to find Stavik.
“I remember that I had listened to her memorial service on an old AM/FM radio,” Olsen said Friday. “It really changed my perspective at such a young age.”
Dawn, the former Acme resident, said the slaying shattered the naivete of rural South Fork Valley.
“I remember the community in shock; this once-peaceful, safe place now had folks looking around them in suspicion,” she wrote. “I remember purchasing the tape of the song honoring her memory that her classmates made, and I remember my mom and dad becoming extra vigilant, walking us to the bus stop and locking up the house when it had never seemed important in our small town to do that before.”
The Bellingham Herald’s Denver Pratt and Philip A. Dwyer contributed to this story.