Hundreds pack NC chapel for slain soldier's memorial service
By NATHAN HARDIN | The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer | Published: May 29, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — As the final roll call rang out Wednesday inside All American Chapel, no one answered to the last name.
"Spc. Bordeaux," 1st Sgt. Arnie Cobos shouted.
"Spc. Kelli Bordeaux."
"Spc. Kelli Marie Bordeaux."
There were muffled cries from relatives and some of Bordeaux's closest comrades who sat behind a battlefield cross set up at the front of the chapel on Fort Bragg.
A 15-gun salute echoed from beyond the stained-glass windows that wrapped the sides of the chapel.
A crowd of more than 300 watched from packed pews as speaker after speaker recalled the vibrant 23-year-old blonde who vanished in April 2012.
Earlier this month, authorities said Bordeaux's body had been located.
But no one spoke of the violent nature of Bordeaux's death.
For friends and relatives, Wednesday was for Bordeaux.
Sgt. Kaydi Owens met Bordeaux in December 2011, she said, shortly after Bordeaux arrived at Fort Bragg.
Owens and Bordeaux, both from Florida, became fast friends, often talking about their love of the beach.
The first thing she said she noticed was Bordeaux's beaming personality.
"That smile," Owens said, with a grin of her own. "Those teeth with that little body."
Some soldiers smiled as stories of Bordeaux were told. Others held near-empty packs of tissues.
Johnna Henson, her mother, wiped her eyes with a tissue between speakers. In a row behind them, Bordeaux's sister, Olivia Cox, held her 17-month-old daughter, Elli, in her lap, hugging her at times with a wadded tissue in hand. Bordeaux's husband, Mike Bordeaux, sat in the same section.
Another friend, Spc. Juliana Mannett, said Bordeaux excelled in the military and called her death "tragic."
Her voice cracked with emotion as she told the crowd that she would continue Bordeaux's embodiment of optimism and hope.
"We shouldn't be here today. Kelli should be," Mannett said. "She should be enjoying the summer on the beaches of Florida. She should be home with her family.
"Nothing about what happened to her makes sense," Mannett said. "But we have one thing to hold onto, and that's hope."
Soldiers from units across Bragg attended the service, with a large constituency being from Bordeaux's.
Bordeaux was assigned to the 601st Area Support Medical Company, 44th Medical Brigade and served as a combat medic.
To the left of the family, the commander of Fort Bragg, Maj. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, nodded along with the high remarks from her peers.
First Lt. Annie Davis spoke of a time she fought to keep Bordeaux in her unit - to the point of nearly embarrassing herself in front of a superior.
"Kelli is the type of soldier that every leader wants to maintain in their formation," Davis said. "The kind that is OK to look crazy in front of your boss fighting for her, and I'm humbled I was that leader for her."
Davis' strong voice at times belied the tears in her eyes. She paused at points.
"Today, we are gathered to celebrate the life of Kelli in a different kind of way and to end the two-year ordeal," Davis said. "It's a painful process we're going through, but (we're) grateful also that we're bringing her home to her organization, her friends and especially to her family."
The closure was brought about in large part by a clean-cut, buttoned-down private investigator who sat in a row behind Bordeaux's relatives.
David Marshburn worked for 22 months on Bordeaux's disappearance, eventually getting the man accused in her death to reveal the location of her body.
He and his assistant, Marsha Ward, sat with several Fayetteville police homicide detectives who worked the case.
Marshburn said he met with Bordeaux's family in a back room of the chapel after the service.
At first, few words were spoken between Marshburn and relatives, he said. Then, Henson hugged him.
"It was just one of those standstill moments where you just embrace," he said. "All you thought about was just the emotions of the case, her missing, her daughter. It was just an unbelievably strong feeling."
Marshburn said he was emotional at times during the service.
"I was in Kelly's life - so much, so detailed," he said. "To actually meet everyone to put a name with a face or a story or anything, it was awesome - amazing."
Bordeaux's remains were found earlier this month in a shallow grave off River Road.
Nicholas Holbert, a 27-year-old sex offender, has been charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping in her death.
He is accused of killing Bordeaux in the early morning hours of April 14, 2012, outside the now-closed Froggy Bottoms bar on Ramsey Street. Bordeaux was last seen at the bar, and Holbert worked there.
Lt. Col. Heather Kness, Bordeaux's battalion commander, said Bordeaux "showed us it was possible to have many sides. To be the silly girl and a courageous and smart woman."
As the speakers filed out, they gave silent, synchronized salutes to a battlefield cross - an M-16 rifle that held up a camouflaged Army helmet and Bordeaux's dog tags. A pair of her combat boots sat under it.
Some soldiers stooped at the memorial to place military coins before exiting. Several were from the 44th Medical Brigade.
From the corner of the stage, Eugene McLeod, a pianist at Womack Army Medical Center, softly played "America the Beautiful."
Henson kneeled at the base of the cross before leaving.
She stood and faced a portrait of her daughter, outlined in gold letters that spelled out her name, rank and unit.
Henson held the sides of the photo with both hands and kissed her daughter's forehead.