There was mourning and missing closure in equal measure at Brinnon Community Church as family and friends of Shantina Marie "Kat" Smiley gathered on Saturday to remember her as a young woman known for "that smile" and the courage to move beyond a tough past.
The 29-year-old Smiley of Silverdale, along with her 8-year-old son, Azriel Carver, vanished March 13 while driving from Silverdale to Castle Rock to visit relatives. The van she was driving was found March 14, abandoned and partially submerged in water on a remote Puget Sound beach north of Olympia.
Azriel’s body was found March 18 on a beach at the south end of Fox Island near Gig Harbor. The Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that the boy’s death was an accidental drowning. A memorial for Azriel was held in March in Silverdale.
There are no new leads in the investigation of Shantina’s disappearance, but she, too, is believed to have drowned, according to Detective Sgt. Cheryl Stines of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office. The sheriff’s office will still try to recover Shantina’s body for the sake of the family, Stines said.
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“This is a hard day. It really is, not knowing and having to find some way of closure,” Robb Simmons, Shantina’s fiancé of two years, told the crowd of more than 75. “That’s the hard part. There are so many unanswered questions.”
Simmons spoke tenderly of the woman he met online, who became his soulmate and best support. Both have had hard times in the past, Simmons said, but together they were mapping a brighter future for themselves, Azriel, and Simmons’ two children Nicky, 15, and DJ, 11.
Shantina graduated in May from Olympic College and was looking forward to a career in medical billing.
“We had a lot of challenges, but she had my back and I had her back. She’s an incredible woman,” Simmons said.
During the initial investigation, Simmons acknowledged to a television reporter that Shantina was a recovering alcoholic who had recently relapsed. The couple had been under stress because of concerns about Simmons’ health that turned out to be unfounded.
Simmons said that he didn’t believe the relapse played any role in her disappearance.
Simmons’ daughter broke down as she spoke of the woman she quickly came to call “Mom.”
The two shared many great girl talks and more than a few tears. Shantina always inspired her to reach for her dreams, Nicky Simmons said.
“I’m never going to forget that smile,” she said. “She was the mom I’ve always wanted. The two years I’ve known her were the best years of my life.”
Dolly Smith of Brinnon, Shantina’s grandmother, helped raise Shantina beginning in third grade when her mother was unable to care for her and also for a time while she was in high school. Smith and her late husband, Ron Edgell, then lived in Castle Rock.