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Two bright lights remembered in Shady Cove

SHADY COVE — Even as the burgeoning dark settled over Upper Rogue Regional Park early Friday evening, a growing front of candles threw a warm glow up into the night.

Those already assembled in Shady Cove obligingly bent their lights toward any newcomer arriving with an unlit wick. By the time Brian Noble stepped up to the microphone set up a short distance away, the group was well over a hundred strong.

Noble, pastor at Coram Deo Ministries, thanked the people for coming before leading a prayer, asking for comfort for his church members and the Shady Cove community, both of whom were only recently struck by tragedy.

Once the “Amen” was said, Noble turned the microphone over to the crowd, inviting the vigil-keepers to talk about the two reasons they were there — Destiny Finch and Malina Nickel.

Nickel, who went missing three years ago, and Finch, reported missing Nov. 12, didn’t have a lot in common. In the last two weeks, however, detectives with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office delivered news that wrenched their families together: Finch was found dead, and her roommate was arrested on a murder charge. Just days later, detectives announced that additional evidence, including human bones, had led them to believe Nickel had also been killed.

Shane Wayman, also a Shady Cove resident, now faces charges relating to both Finch’s and Nickel’s deaths.

But the family and friends who arranged Friday night’s vigil didn’t want to focus on that, they said. Instead, they wanted to honor and emphasize that both Finch and Nickel, regardless of what’s ahead, were fiercely loved and will be remembered by their small community.

“She was someone I grew up with and somebody I honestly saw as one of my best friends growing up,” said one speaker who didn’t identify himself, speaking about Finch. “I felt like she understood me and told me to be myself.”

The total number of speakers who approached the microphone was small. Less than a half-hour after the program began, small pockets of grieving friends, classmates and coworkers began to group off, sharing hugs and swapping stories about the young women.

Andrea Bowling, who met Nickel at Shady Cove School and graduated with her in 2005, said her friend loved books. She once talked about becoming a librarian.

“Malina was really kind to me when I didn’t have a lot of friends,” Bowling said. Tears filled her eyes, but didn’t fall.

Hearing the news that Nickel had gone missing just before Thanksgiving in 2016 had been “shocking,” Bowling said. Now, with authorities believing her former classmate had died (the Oregon State Police Lab has not yet confirmed with DNA testing who the located bones belong to), Bowling said she was glad to have the chance to celebrate Nickel’s life.

“We grew apart, but I still have a place in my heart for her,” she said.

Greg Beals went to church with the Finch family around 20 years ago, just around the time Destiny was born. He said her parents, Mike and Cristi, were involved and loving parents, full of stories about what their only child was up to, from taekwondo to taking silly photos on her fiance’s phone.

“She was a real character,” he said of Destiny.

None of the family members, huddled at the front and holding each other tightly, stepped up to the microphone. But they exchanged hugs with those who had known their loved ones, who feel the loss of them and wrestled with the same grief and anger about what happened to them.

Sarah Wilson, who called Destiny her “sixth kid” and organized the vigil after losing her, said she understands the still-raw feelings of shock and unrest circulating in the community.

She called what happened, “a nightmare movie story.”

“No one can wrap their brains around this,” she said.

Destiny was 20 years old when she was killed. Nickel left two children behind when she went missing. For years, rumors had spread about what happened to her.

Wilson said she wanted the vigil to be a public way to recognize the love, and not just the loss, that bind Nickel’s and Finch’s family together now.

“She was the perfect product of her parents,” she said. “They’re so amazing, so strong and there’s so much love in them.”

Cristi Finch, in between hugs from departing friends, drew comfort from the event another way,, however: by being reminded of the value her own community placed on her daughter’s life.

“It helps seeing how many people loved her,” she said.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneFriends, family and community members hold candles at a vigil for Destiny Finch and Malina Nickel at Upper Rogue River Park in Shady Cove Friday evening.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneWelcome table to the vigil of Destiny Finch and Malina Nickel at Upper Rogue River Park in Shady Cove Friday evening.