Community, Creswell, Obituaries & Tributes, Public Safety & Health

Weekend of mourning – Vigil held to honor elderly murder victim


The Creswell community was reeling from a two-fold tragedy after a 12-year-old boy last week allegedly murdered a 92-year-old Creswell woman in her home. The community organized a candlelight vigil at Holt Park on Jan. 12 to honor the late Erma Katherine (Sapp) Burnell.
The incident occured on Jan. 7 around 12:19 p.m. when Lane County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) received a report of an injured woman on the 200 block of Creswood Drive. Burnell was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after medics and law enforcement arrived. Police said the circumstances for her death were suspicious.
Erma was born on Aug. 19, 1926 in Easley, Mo. and was the oldest child of four. She had been living in Creswell for over 40 years, and at 92 years old, she still cooked all of her meals.
Erma married Donald Anderson in 1946 but split a year later. The two had one child, Beverly Anderson.
Erma and her daughter moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and later to Vaughn, N.M, where Erma met Orial Burnell and the two married. The family then resided in Utah and later moved to Creswell.
Erma was a fun-loving woman and could be found at the hair salon on the last Tuesday of the month like clockwork. There, she’d be getting her hair done for the next day, when she’d go on a monthly lunch date with her three good friends at King Estates Winery. The girls never missed their monthly gathering.
She had a collection of antique cups and saucers and loved to paint pictures. She loved dogs and she loved flowers – especially roses, having over two dozen rose bushes planted at her house in Creswell.
Her last New Years was spent hosting a ladies only New Years Eve party, where she, her daughter, and Erma’s closest friends gathered and enjoyed champagne and a cheese platter together.
Erma loved playing bridge before her eyesight weakened, was also an avid reader and often listened to electronic books. Her favorite TV shows were ”Judge Judy” and ”The Price is Right.”
Erma had two twin grandsons and five great-grandchildren, all residing in California; a step-daughter and her sons, as well as one granddaughter, all residing in Oregon.
In the midst of shock and sadness, the community rallied to show their respects for Burnell on Jan. 12 in Holt Park.
Vigil organizers Christy McCormick and Tanya Hill didn’t know each other before this tragedy, but connected on a Creswell social media page. The vigil was a way to get everyone in one place to express their sorrows and to show community unity.
”Nothing ever happens like this in Creswell,” McCormick said. ”The most we see is the Dari-Mart or Dairy Queen being broken into. The community didn’t know how to handle the big news.”
Over 600 candles were lit in the park with an estimated 100 people in attendance, including Burnell’s daughter and Burnell’s caregiver. The vigil opened with a prayer, and the participants went around and lit candles off of one another’s, McCormick said.
”It was truly incredible seeing the large number of people coming together on such a frigid winter evening to unselfishly give of their time and effort to honor and respect Erma (Burnell) and support for her family,” Creswell Mayor Richard Zettervall said.
Touching speeches were given and people got to know their neighbors more, McCormick said. One speech was made about how we don’t talk to our neighbors anymore like we used to, that a lot has changed in the last 10 years, and how Burnell would’ve wanted people to get to know their neighbors better.
”It was a very powerful speech,” McCormick said. ”Get to know your neighbors better is the lesson.”
Zettervall offers advice to the community on the mend, saying, ”It’s important for all of us to continue to be there for each other. Be there to support your friends and neighbors, especially if there are children involved…I care deeply about the people in our city and want all of us to feel that way about each other.”
On Thursday, Jan. 10, LCSO arrested a juvenile on first-degree murder and burglary charges, and lodged him at the Serbu Juvenile Justice Center in Eugene. On Friday, Jan. 11, the boy appeared in Lane County Juvenile Court to face those allegations, which he reportedly denied, and no future court appearances were scheduled at the time.
Benjamin Chambers, communications director at Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) told The Chronicle that for a child this young, despite the Measure 11 offense, it is unlikely the youth will be charged as an adult. ”It’s unlikely, but it could happen,” he said.
He expects the offender will be committed to OYA to close custody until the age of 25 – about 13 years. The boy will likely be held at the juvenile facility until the case is decided.
”The length in time is highly variable,” Chambers said. ”It could be months or longer. If he contests it, it will take a while.”
OYA is different from adult facilities in that they ”serve youth and have more resources to provide for their education and treatments,” Chambers said.
Youth at the facility undergo education, medical and risk assessments, among others. The offender would be going to school in the facility, would be given treatments, and have opportunties to take part in various vocational and recreational programming, Chambers said.
It’s a developmental approach, Chambers said. Children at that young of an age have a capacity for learning and are still developing.
”The hope is they will leave our system and not return,” Chambers said.
The boy’s name was mentioned in court and was reported by other news outlets, but The Chronicle generally does not publish names of juveniles under prosecution. Police will not release the name because of his age, LCSO Sergeant Scott Denham said.
Other details have not been released, including whether or not the victim and suspect knew each other, what Burnell’s fatal injuries were sustained from, or the more detailed information on the two charges.
The severity of the crime coupled with the young age of the alleged offender has been mind-boggling for most.
”Our world is filled with too much violence… The part that is so hard to understand is how young the suspect is,” said Zettervall. ”I’m hopeful that this young person gets the help that they desperately need. ”
The Chronicle will continue to report on this story as information becomes available.



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