The new year brought tragic news for friends and family members of Yolanda Holtrey and Michelle Luke.
The two women, known for their smiles and big hearts, had been killed, and the husband of one of their co-workers had been arrested on suspicion of murdering them. No one could understand why they would meet such an end.
Luke, 49, of Huntington Beach, and Holtrey, 59, were found dead following an investigation of a fire at Holtrey's house in Westminster on New Year's Day. The women's bodies were found Monday in Newport Beach, authorities said.
Christopher Ireland, 37, of Huntington Beach was charged Wednesday with two counts of first-degree murder, one felony count of arson in connection with the fire and one felony count of aggravated mayhem.
Luke and Holtrey worked with Ireland's wife, Samantha, at Stein Mart in Huntington Beach.
Police are still investigating a possible motive for the crime. They have not released how the victims died.
Friends of Luke and Holtrey posted their shock and outrage on Facebook.
"It is so heart-wrenching, horrific, and we will never be the same in our life without Michelle. She was so loved by her family and friends," Trudy Slingo-Manuel wrote on Luke's Facebook page. Slingo-Manuel is listed on Facebook as Luke's mother.
Luke also is survived by a daughter, Shainnen Somerville of Huntington Beach, and a brother, Nestor Figueroa of Ontario, according to Luke's Facebook page.
When reached via a Facebook message, Somerville had no immediate comment.
"My heart is so broken that sweet, sweet Michelle was taken from this Earth in such a violent manner," Patty Mitchell wrote. "It was not her time. She had so much more to give. She was the best mother and dearest friend. She gathered Facebook friends by the hundreds because of her kind and genuine nature."
One of Holtrey's friends described her as a go-getter.
"She wanted to be a leader of the pack," Rebecca Miranda, Holtrey's friend of more than 30 years, said in a phone interview.
Holtrey liked to drive fast, said Miranda, 60, of Commerce.
"She had a Harley. She loved fast-moving vehicles," Miranda said. "Every time I got on the freeway with her in the Chrysler, I already knew how she would drive. She was a speed demon."
A customer who frequents the Stein Mart on Beach Boulevard recalled how Holtrey was always willing to help with a smile on her face.
"If you went to the counter and something's wrong, [she would] run all over the store and try to help you," said Patrice Govoreau, 60, of Huntington Beach. "She was a great lady."
Terence Tyler Cruz, who taught classes at 24 Hour Fitness in Westminster, said he couldn't forget Holtrey's cheery demeanor.
"She would come into my class in her colorful outfits and danced her heart out," Cruz said.
Holtrey's Facebook page says she was widowed. According to other posts, she had a daughter, Harmony.
Harmony Holtrey did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Ireland's Facebook page lists his hometown as Phoenix. In his intro, the real estate agent for Realty One Group Inc. in Rancho Cucamonga states he's "just a man trying to better his family." His and his wife's public pages don't identify children or other family members.
Fundraising pages to help Holtrey's and Luke's families pay expenses have been set up at Gofundme.com.
Nuran Alteir is a contributor to Times Community News.