Love, laughter and tears

Family members, friends remember local woman killed in a triple homicide

Janell Renee Knight was whimsical, unique and eclectic.

She loved dressing in vintage clothing and wearing elaborate hats decorated with ribbons, feathers, bows and leopard prints.

Knight collected unusual figurines, knickknacks and trinkets — things no one else wanted, but in which she found great delight.

She loved eating cupcakes, reading, going to high tea and country western dancing.

Most of all, Knight was fiercely loyal and devoted to those she loved.

These characteristics, according to her family and friends, paint the picture of Janell. They say the 43-year-old’s violent death, and the disturbing circumstances surrounding it, do not reflect the person they knew.

July 15, 2016

On Monday, Aug. 1, the man charged with murdering three people, including Knight, and attempting to murder another, will be arraigned in Clark County Superior Court.

According to court records, on July 15 Brent W. Luyster, 35, drove with Camas residents Zachary D. Thompson and his girlfriend, Breanne L.A. Leigh, to the rural Woodland home Knight shared with Joseph M. Lamar. Luyster’s girlfriend, Andrea D. Sibley, 27, arrived at the house a couple of hours later.

Luyster, of Woodland, is accused of fatally shooting in the head Knight, Lamar and Thompson. Their bodies were discovered by police when Leigh, after being shot in the face, drove herself to a convenience store two miles away to get help.

Leigh was able to identify the shooter as Luyster, a man with a lengthy, violent criminal history and numerous white supremacist words and symbols tattooed all over his body.

A manhunt ensued and on July 16, Luyster, Sibley and their 2-year-old son were discovered by law enforcement at a makeshift campsite in a wooded area of Cowlitz County off of Ocean Beach Highway No. 3.

Luyster was arrested by deputies without incident. He is currently lodged in the Clark County Jail without possibility of bail.

Sibley was arrested on July 21 on charges of rendering criminal assistance while armed with a firearm. Judge Derek Vanderwood set bail at $400,000. As of July 27, she is listed as an inmate on the Clark County Jail roster. She will also be arraigned on Aug. 1 in Clark County Superior Court.

In an interview with Clark County Sheriff’s Office detectives, Sibley provided vague answers when questioned about what transpired at the property located at 4006 N.W. 417th St., on that deadly night in Woodland.

“Andrea said she did not know for certain where she went in the evening,” Det. Kevin Harper wrote in a probable cause affidavit. “She said that she was pretty certain that bad things happened.”

Truly beautiful

“Beauty is not on the outside, beauty is what you do and feel. It’s how you treat people. Beauty is when you help someone, not expecting anything in return.”

These words were written by Knight when she was a student at J.D. Zellerbach Middle School in Camas. The poem was read by Clare Austen, a family friend and ordained minister who officiated a celebration of Knight’s life at Grace Foursquare Church in Camas on July 23.

“I believe that Janell’s life was truly beautiful, and she was one of those souls herself,” said Austen, who graduated from Camas High School with Knight’s parents, Linda and Mark Phimister.

That poem was among the treasures found tucked inside a hope chest made for Knight by her father.

After Knight’s death, when family members looked inside they found a collection of her childhood memories. It was filled with items including a book of creative writing from her days at Camas High School, a Christmas stocking her dad bought on the day she was born, as well as Strawberry Shortcake and Cabbage Patch dolls Knight prized when she was a little girl.

During an interview on Monday, Linda Phimister said she wasn’t surprised her daughter held onto those keepsakes for so many years.

“She is very sentimental,” she said.

Family bonds

The Phimister family has always been close. The bond is especially tight between Linda and Mark’s three children, Knight, the oldest, Brenda Eyman and Matt Phimister.

During the memorial service, Matt Phimister recalled a trip to Las Vegas when his sisters not only kept themselves entertained with laughter and silliness while playing the slot machines, but their joy was visibly contagious to those around them.

“Happiness surrounds them everywhere they go,” he said. “They bring it to everybody.”

During an interview on Tuesday, Eyman described how she admired Knight’s confidence. It was a trait her sister possessed from a young age, even through high school when teens are often unsure of themselves and easily manipulated by their peers.

“She was smart. She just had ‘it,’ ” Eyman said. “She always knew who she was and was consistently grounded in who she was.”

The sisters’ relationship transformed as they became adults.

“We had the normal sibling craziness when we were younger,” Eyman said. “I left the area after high school, and when I came back everything was different. Everything just aligned with us becoming best friends in a different way.”

Knight was there for the births of both of Eyman’s children — Colby and Cameron, now 21 and 19, respectively. She remained an unwavering presence in her nephew’s lives.

“They are a lot of her,” Eyman said. “She was constantly [influencing them] as they were growing up and becoming young men. She was such a big part of everything.”

Knight was also known to be a devoted “mother hen,” to her stepson Devan Knight, 21, of Vancouver.

Her impact extended beyond the family circle. At the service friends and co-workers told stories of how Knight made them burst into fits of laughter, but was also by their sides in times of great need.

Many in attendance were friends Knight had met through her love for country western dancing. One speaker recalled a time when his daughter became very sick. Knight stopped by their home many times to bring the family food, toys and other comfort items, and to simply check on their well-being.

“No matter what her mood was like, no matter how her day was, she always wanted to make sure that your day was going well and that you were cheered up and feeling better than you were before she got there,” he said. “She will be very, very missed by this crowd of people. Things just aren’t going to be the same. We’ll all get on. We’ll all see her again. We all appreciate having her for the time we had her.”

Remembering Janell

Two week’s prior to her death, Knight, her mother and sister attended a bridal shower together. That was the last time they saw her alive.

“We had such a fun time,” Linda Phimister recalled. “That day we went shopping. There was lots of giggling and lots of laughter.”

Those kinds of memories, and there are many of them, are what Knight’s family will cling to as they cope with the fact that many of the questions surrounding her death might never be answered.

“I don’t know the reason she was placed in that situation,” Eyman said. “There are things I’m not going to understand and I’ve got to be OK with that. Everything about where she was that night is bigger than what we can understand. It doesn’t fit anything we knew about her.”

Both women said it has been difficult to watch the media coverage and read comments being made via social media.

“People will make assumptions about Janell because of associations,” Eyman said. “Truly knowing my sister and who she was as a person, I think they are putting her in a category that she wasn’t in. To those people who are saying those things it might not matter, but to me it matters.”

Linda Phimister echoed those feelings.

“She was not part of that hate group, and she was not any part of whatever hatred was going on there,” she said. “From all of the stories I’ve heard, she brought goodness and light into the situation she was in.”

She admitted there were times she was worried about her daughter’s safety.

“But she would just say, ‘I’m fine. Don’t worry, Mom,'” she said. “She’s 43 years old. I couldn’t tell her what to do. She’d always say, it’s OK Mom. It’s OK.”

At the memorial service, Austen communicated a message from Knight’s family to those mourning her death.

“Please, don’t let the circumstances of her death cause your heart to be heavy or full of hate for the man responsible,” she said. “Don’t give him power, or let him steal one more precious moment of our life by being bitter. Instead, today, let’s open our hearts and minds and allow the kindness the generosity, and the uniqueness of Janell’s life to bring us peace and joy. Let Janell’s life inspire you to live your life with more love, and more laughter.”

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