A murder. A suicide. A Buddhist ceremony with both families to free spirits
Four monks held a piece of white string tied around their portraits. Family members of both the murder victim and the woman suspected of killing her knelt beside an unmade bed. Around them, artifacts from two lives frozen in time: pink house slippers by the hall, school notebooks on a desk, a hamper of freshly washed laundry yet to be folded.
Relatives of Kornkamon Leenawarat, 25, and Thiti-on Chotechuangsab, 32, returned to the University of Washington law students’ apartment with the monks last week to free their spirits from this realm.
The King County Medical Examiner determined the students’ deaths to be a murder-suicide, but officials have released few details on what led to the violence.
Family members declined to comment on the nature of the crime, citing respect for the police work to conclude. But the family of Leenawarat, identified as the murder victim by the King County Medical Examiner, wanted her to be remembered as more than a tragic death.
She was organized and driven, cousin-in-law Kevin Bordosky said, on her way to earning a second master’s degree, with hopes of becoming a judge back in Thailand. This was something she had worked toward since she was 18 years old. While studying for her first master’s degree in Boston, Leenawarat loved skiing in Vermont, Bordosky said.
Nathathai Leenavarat, Kornkamon’s’ first cousin and Bordosky’s wife, said Leenawarat also was known for her positivity, no matter the occasion. When Leenawarat’s mother died in 2016 and her uncle died in 2017, the family was responsible for hosting and feeding relatives. Leenavarat said her cousin did so for days on end without complaint, always a smile on her face.
Leenavarat and her husband told KUOW that their cousin and Chotechuangsab met by chance while she was studying law at Thammasat University, an esteemed institution in Thailand. As part of the class, Leenawarat visited a court where Chotechuangsab worked. Independently, Leenavarat and Bordosky said, the two women decided to pursue master's degrees at Boston University. Eventually, both chose to continue their education at the University of Washington.
Thiti-on Chotechuangsab's family was there too.
Seth Chotechuangsab, Thiti-on's brother, also attended the ceremony. He participated in the blessings for both students.
During the ceremony, both Leenawarat’s family members and Chotechuangsab knelt by the bed with bowls and cups of water. As monks chanted, the family members poured water from one container to another, representing the flow from the hearts, or spirits, of the two women. This dedication ritual, or transfer of merit, would ensure that good deeds would be transferred to their next lives, Ven. Phra Ratsamee of the Buddhangkura Buddhist Temple of Washington explained.
For Leenawarat’s family, the ceremony marked a rare moment of beauty in a week filled with grief, shock and the bureaucratic nightmare involved in sending her body back to Thailand. But it wasn’t without complex feelings.
Nathathai Leenavarat, the cousin of the woman murdered, said at some points during the ceremony she felt uncomfortable with Chotechuangsab's brother there.
“On the other hand,” she said, “I feel like they lost, too, so I need to forgive him.”