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New promise from lives cut short: Scholarship honors murder victims Lynnettee and Kaylene Keller | Photo gallery
Eighteen-year-old Kaylene Keller had the perfect life of a teen, and a fantastic future bringing virtual worlds to life seemed just around the corner.
Three months ago, Keller and boyfriend Carson Brammer were taking their love of video games to a new level. The teens had dated for 15 months, drawn together by common interests and goals. Carson would haul a 32-inch television over to Kaylene’s North Bend house, or they’d push their computer monitors together, then explore and adventure in virtual realms like Skyrim or Portal.
“She was good,” Carson remembers. Kaylene played better than anyone he knew. She was creative, too. Soon, he and Kaylene were dreaming of worlds of their own, then building virtual models.
“We always talked about it. We had ideas,” said Carson. He made the maps and backgrounds, while Kaylene envisioned the characters and their stories.
When her family members started asking her to get serious about college, she followed her dreams, and was working on a game development path. Then her happy future came to an abrupt, shockingly violent end.
Kaylene’s family say they had no inkling something was wrong in the teen’s North Bend home. They were blindsided by reports of what happened there on April 22, when her father, Peter, shot both Kaylene and her mother, Lynnettee, in their sleep, then torched the home and escaped to a log-built bunker in steep country above North Bend’s Forster Woods neighborhood. Police had him surrounded him days later, when Peter Keller took his own life.
Officers have since found evidence confirming that Peter was the killer. In a press conference last week, King County Sheriff Steve Strachan described the videos that Keller left behind at his bunker, which he spent nine years secretively building on Rattlesnake Ridge. In the chilling messages, Keller left few clues as to why he did what he felt he had to do, other than saying that he couldn’t live a normal life anymore.
Family members of Lynnettee and Kaylene, who spoke at the sheriff’s conference Thursday, July 12, still have a hard time talking about what happened. It hurts, they say, to think back to the days before the murders.
But Lynnettee’s twin brother, Gene Rocha, said the slayings were sudden, without warning.
“Nobody had any idea,” he said. “It’d be like you being killed tomorrow by a random stranger. It was completely sudden.”
Lynnettee and Peter had just celebrated their anniversary.
“She seemed happy,” Gene said. “When I talked to her on Monday, she never gave one sign there was something wrong with her and Peter. There’s no way I will ever understand what happened, why Peter did what he did.”
Both mother and daughter were living normal, happy lives, family members said.
“My sister was a beautiful woman,” said Kimberly Rocha-Pearson, Kaylene’s aunt. “She loved her family. Kaylene had a perfect life as an 18-year-old. They didn’t know any fear at all. This tragedy was sudden and unexpected.”
Peter Keller, however, was living a secret life. Members of Lynnettee’s family said Keller was reclusive and “had a fascination with trains and guns; that he had a survivalist mentality and distaste for authority,” according to court documents. Members of his own family hadn’t heard from him in months,
Reports say Brammer had learned from Kaylene that her father was building a stockpile of weapons and supplies at a “fort” in the woods. That fort, detectives later discovered, was nine years in the making, as Keller hollowed out the hillside and prepared a hidden retreat. Prior to the killings, Keller withdrew thousands of dollars from the family bank account. From the video diary later discovered at the bunker, he felt he couldn’t continue a normal life, and resolved to kill his wife and daughter.
A creative spark
Lynnettee’s dream was always to be a mom. She is remembered as a creative, family-focused woman.
“She was definitely an introvert,” said her sister, Kimberly Rocha-Pearson. “Family was her focus.”
The Rochas always got together for the holidays, and Lynnettee and Kimberly were collaborative scrapbookers. Lynnettee made countless books, cards, invitations and other crafts that are now part of her family legacy.
“In the end, what you leave behind is your memories,” Kimberly said. “What we have of Lynn are the memories she created.”
Lynnettee and her siblings grew up in Beaverton, Ore. They were a close family, with their share of sibling rivalries. They never lost their closeness as the family spread out in Washington and Oregon.
Kimberly remembers how her sister insisted on giving back to the community around her, and worked to instill that in Kaylene.
In 2010, the sisters went to Giving Trees in North Bend and Bellevue, choosing names of needy families and buying gifts.
“That was extremely important to Lynnettee,” her sister said.
Both mother and daughter were very humble, and Kimberly remembers her niece as bright and gentle.
When Kaylene graduated in 2011, the Rocha family was in Snoqualmie, cheering her on.
“She was the first granddaughter, the first grandchild,” Kimberly said. “She was our princess. It was one step in her life. We were thrilled for her.”
Her aunts and uncle always wanted Kaylene to go on to school, but the teen wasn’t eager to go to college right away.
With video gaming her passion, she gave signs of wanting to go to the DigiPen institute. That desire led to the scholarship.
“That is the best way we can honor my sister and my niece,” Kimberly said.
“Your heart will never recover,” Kimberly said. “But there is a way for us to remember and honor them.”
“My sister would be proud of how we’re taking all the assets, everything left over, and putting it toward that scholarship,” Gene said.
In her video games, Kaylene would play as a stealthy rogue type, but in real life, she was a kind, gentle person, who’d save spiders from getting stomped.
“She was an incredible person,” said Carson, who is planning to go back to college this fall. “Anybody who was involved with her suffered a large loss in their life. She’s beautiful.”
Carson hopes other girls in her situation can benefit from the scholarship. Teens like her could one day make the virtual worlds that Carson and Kaylene once explored together.
“That would be incredible,” Carson said.
Kaylene and Lynnettee's scholarship
To ensure that the memory of Lynnettee and Kaylene Keller lives on, the Rocha family established a scholarship fund in Kaylene’s name, geared toward young people like her. Part of the Seattle Foundation, the fund will help teens with interests similar to Kaylene, who had planned to attend the DigiPen Institute of Technology in Redmond.
The Rocha family contributed all the assets from the Keller estate, including the tens of thousands of dollars that Peter had hidden at his bunker, to the fund.
Photo by Kimberly Rocha-Pearson
Lynnettee and Kaylene Keller, pictured at Kaylene’s Mount Si High School graduation in 2011. The mother and daughter were killed by Peter Keller in April. Their creative spirit is remembered in a new memorial college scholarship.
Above, King County Sheriff Steve Strachan briefs reporters on Thursday, July 12, discussing the investigation into the Keller slayings. The sheriff's office released a video diary made by Keller in which he described his plans and deadlu decision.
Left, Peter Keller, who murdered his wife and daughter before retreating to a hidden bunker near North Bend. Below, the entrance to the bunker, in a photo taken by Keller several years ago during construction. He spent nine years building the hideout above the Forster Woods on Rattlesnake Ridge. When Keller was surrounded by police, he took his own life.