Special Reports

A place in our lives

DREW PERINE/The News Tribune
The body of Ralph and Pattie Bastian's 13-year-old daughter, Jennifer, was found in 1986 along Five Mile Drive in PointDefiance Park. Her killer has never been brought to justice.

As a kid, Pattie Bastian could think of no safer place than Point Defiance Park.

“I grew up in the park. We had the fish fries at Owen Beach, all the activities you could do in the park – climbing, running, being free,” she said. Her mom took her to the old aquarium, and to the waterfront to have breakfast and watch fishermen launch their boats.

The park was what moms did with their kids. When Pattie was a mom, she did the same with her daughters, Theresa and Jennifer.

“The girls and I used to go down to the old zoo, and we did Fort Nisqually and Five Mile Drive and Frisbee throwing,” she said. “All the stuff you do when the park’s your back yard.”

The Bastians would face their greatest loss in Tacoma’s back yard.

At 13, Jennifer was training for a YMCA bicycle tour of Lopez Island. She and a friend would ride the 30 blocks to the park, complete Five Mile Drive, then head home.

“Except, that one fateful day, her friend was not available,” Pattie said. “Jennifer called her dad and asked if she could go by herself. Dad said yes, once around Five Mile Drive and home by 6.”

It was Aug. 4, 1986, and Jennifer Bastian was not home by 6, 7 or 9 p.m. The Bastians called neighbors, friends and 911.

“The police came, took a report,” Pattie said. “It wasn’t half an hour later and there was a chaplain there.

“He was just as scared as I was.”

In Tacoma, 1986 was the year of lost girls. Michella Welch was snatched from Puget Park and murdered in April.

“Around 11 p.m., the police came in and asked for some items of her clothing so they could use their scent dogs,” Pattie said. “All night long, they had the dogs in the park. It was a really nice night. They figured, if they kept going, the dogs would get as much scent as possible.”

The dogs got no scent.

“Extraordinarily, the police closed the park for three days,” Ralph said. “They had search and rescue teams from as far away as Bremerton and Vancouver, everywhere. They had people on horses. .”

The last day of the closure, Ralph and Pattie thanked the searchers and walked their daughter’s bike route.

“We went walking down Five Mile Drive,” Pattie said. “I was filled with the feeling that if this is the last thing my daughter saw before she died, wasn’t it a gift? When you look up through those virgin trees and hear the birds and smell the saltwater, there is not a more beautiful thing to lay your eyes on.”

Twenty-eight days after Jennifer Bastian disappeared, officers discovered her body 20 yards off the path, in a depression where a giant tree had fallen.

Her parents have walked that path many times.

“There is a part of me that feels that is where Jennifer is, more than in a cemetery lot. It’s where her spirit is, and will always be,” Pattie said.

In the 19 years since their daughter died, the Bastians have made tens of thousands of children safer. Pattie founded the Children’s Safety Fair, which has helped put thousands of bike helmets on kids and adults and taught bicyclists and walkers to team up with a buddy.

The Bastians have never stopped loving Point Defiance.

“The park did not kill her,” Pattie said. “Why would anyone turn their back on something that beautiful, and so much a gift?”

They trust in science, chance and detection, and hope the person who killed their child will finally be caught and brought to justice.

“I’ve driven by so many of those roadside crosses, and I have often wondered if we could have a cross put there for Jenny,” Patty said referring to memorials. “It could be a constant memory, maybe even a little reminder to parents and kids.”

If you have personal stories or memories about the park you'd like to share, contact columnist Kathleen Merryman at kathleen.merryman@thenewstribune.com.