Overflow crowd remembers Costa Mesa woman found slain in Newport Beach
With “In Loving Memory Wendi Miller” in the background, guests Brooke Castro and Wendy Morinish share an emotional hug at a service Friday at Mariners Church in Irvine.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
Mary Lu Miller gives a speech in tribute to her daughter Wendi.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
Wendi Miller’s daughter, Cambria Carpenter, sings in tribute to her late mom during a service Friday at Mariners Church in Irvine.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
Bonjie Manzon and Jennifer Moran give Friday’s service a lighter note with their memories of Wendi Miller.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
Dayna Camarena speaks at Friday’s memorial service for her friend Wendi Miller, saying she prefered to speak extemporaneously rather than use her prepared speech.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
The guest book at Friday’s memorial service for Wendi Miller contained a long list of names from those in the overflow crowd.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
Wendi Miller’s son, Luke Carpenter, gives a tribute to his late mom.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
Tracy Dawson speaks at a memorial service Friday at Mariners Church in Irvine for her sister Wendi Miller.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
“My sincere hope is that whenever we remember Wendi we remember joy,” Niki Wetzel said Friday at a memorial service for her friend Wendi Miller.(Photo by Spencer Grant)
The last night of Wendi Miller’s life was spent doing things she loved.
On April 19, Miller went with a friend and her son to a Dana Point church to celebrate Good Friday. She sat with the friend, Dayna Camarena, who was struggling with a personal crisis, and held her hand throughout the service and prayed for her and Camarena’s son.
They went out for a pasta dinner before spending the evening dancing to ’80s music.
“We did three things Wendi loved all in one night,” Camarena said. “Usually we only have the energy to do one.”
Camarena spoke as an overflow crowd gathered at Mariners Church in Irvine on Friday to remember Miller, 48, who was found slain the night of Easter Sunday in a Newport Beach condominium.
Friends said they last saw the Costa Mesa resident at about 1:45 a.m. April 20 before leaving the Sandpiper bar in Laguna Beach. She was giving Darren Partch, whom she had met that night, a ride home to the Newport condo.
When Miller didn’t show for Easter festivities, friends and family members launched a search for her on social media. Just after 9:30 p.m. April 21, the owner of the condominium returned home after being away for the weekend and found Miller and Partch, 38, dead inside. Both had suffered fatal gunshot wounds, the Newport Beach Police Department said. Authorities believe they died April 20.
A Huntington Beach man was arrested April 25 and has been charged with their murders.
“If Wendi were here, she would have invited all of us on a bike ride to the beach,” friend Niki Wetzel said Friday.
Miller was the kind of joyful person who made friends with everyone, friends and family said.
“We were strangers for about 90 seconds,” Wetzel said, recalling their introduction.
“Joy is a gift — remember, it’s the foundational emotion that leads to contentment, peace, fulfillment and happiness,” Wetzel said. “And my sincere hope is that whenever we remember Wendi we remember joy.”
Eric “Boogie” Rose, a college classmate of Miller’s and a leader at Branches Church in Huntington Beach, described her as “fearless” and “too big for one church,” noting that she was involved in many churches in the area.
“There weren’t enough people for her to pour into,” Rose said. He didn’t realize how widespread her involvement in his congregation was until the community was mourning her loss.
“She jumped in and impacted everyone, and because of that, everyone is mourning,” Rose said. “If you knew her, you would know she would want you to have this life, and this life to the full.”
Miller’s daughter, Cambria Carpenter, said her mom would have loved the gathering held in her honor because “she loved talking to people.”
“She was the light of my life completely,” she said.
Mourners throughout the room wiped tears from their eyes as Carpenter sang Carrie Underwood’s “See You Again” in remembrance of her mom.
The week she learned of her mother’s death, Carpenter was set to perform in a school musical, she said. Despite her director and family urging her to consider withdrawing from the show in light of the tragedy, she remembered that her mom had bought tickets, and she decided she had to perform.
“Performing was a way to heal,” Carpenter said. The director dedicated the show to Miller.
“She changed so many people’s lives,” her daughter said.
Miller was born in Long Beach and grew up in Cerritos. She graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She lived in Michigan, Colorado and Texas before returning to California.
Miller was a “vibrant, bubbly person” who “always made you feel like you were her best friend,” said her mother, Mary Lu Miller.
Wendi Miller was chief executive of the Newport Beach-based nonprofit Wings of Justice, which advocates for children and parents in the family court system. She also was an advocate for people who have experienced domestic violence.
“To you, no one was a stranger, just a new friend in waiting,” Miller’s son, Luke Carpenter, said as he read a letter addressed to his mom, whom he credited for inspiring him with her “amazing spirit of light and positivity.”
The huge turnout at the afternoon service overwhelmed the venue, which was prepared for 600 guests. Extra seating was arranged around the perimeter of the multipurpose hall, which was filled with banquet tables and flower arrangements prepared by Miller’s family.
“It’s a testimony to her,” Miller’s sister Tracy Dawson said of the large crowd.
Relatives organized an online fundraiser titled “Wendi Miller Celebration of Life Memorial Fund” that has brought in more than $17,000 since it was established April 23.
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