The home where Malinda Godfrey Gibbons lived and died showed a bleak contrast Thursday between a future filled with plans, things to be done - and a future cut short.
Gibbons and her husband, Kent, had moved into the apartment over the weekend, and many of their belongings remained in boxes stacked around the rooms. Police investigating her brutal murder Wednesday said the boxes were undisturbed and there was no sign of ransacking or forced entry into the apartment. Burglary and robbery have been ruled out as motives."She was just what we would call a little angel," said William Shurtleff, who had been her LDS bishop in Harrisville, Weber County, before her marriage in June 1987. "And I'm not just saying that because she has passed on. I would have said that even if she were here today."
The death was anything but angelic - the young woman was found bound and gagged and bleeding from a wound in her upper left chest about 6:10 p.m. Monday night by her husband, who was returning from work. He summoned emergency assistance, but paramedics pronounced the 22-year-old dead at the scene.
She apparently died quietly, which was also the way she lived. Neighbors in the apartment complex were unable to provide police with any information helpful to the investigation. No screams, no noise. Only death.
That life is gone now and all that is left are memories of a person whose life was brief but whose essence has had a strong impact on those it touched.
"A lot of young people at that age do not have their philosophy together, but she did," said Shurtleff. "She was a leader, the kind of young person everyone hopes their child will become."
"She was kind of a personification of what the ideal LDS youth should be," he continued. "She came from a family that trained their children in every way that you would want them trained."
"She was young and vivacious. Everyone loved her and Kent; they were an ideal couple," said Thomas Bassett, bishop of the Clearfield LDS ward where the Gibbonses resided before leaving three weeks ago for California.
"We hated to see them leave," said Bassett. "They were active and involved, and everyone just loved them. Malinda was the kind of person that reflected the gospel in her daily life."
Mrs. Gibbons was serving as an instructor in the ward's young women's program before leaving for California. Bassett said she was truly loved by the 12- and 13-year old girls she worked with.
Most of her former charges learned of her death Tuesday afternoon as news reports began filtering into Utah. A scheduled church activity for that evening was canceled and instead the girls gathered at the home of one of Bassett's counselors. "Brother (James) Hurst has been a school counselor, and I think he did a lot to help them that night."
One girl described Mrs. Gibbons as the epitome of a caring and loving teacher. "She was always there when we needed her, and we knew that she really cared. It was hard when we started hearing what happened. I think it really helped to meet with the bishopric and the stake ladies."
Costa Mesa police continue to look for a motive in the slaying. No weapon was found at the scene. An autopsy revealed that Mrs. Gibbons bled to death internally from the stab wound near the neck that had punctured the aorta.
"It is hard to understand why these things happen . . . why such a good person should be the victim," Shurtleff said.
Shurtleff was given the unpleasant task of breaking the news to the family. He said the family waited quietly for one of Mrs. Gibbons' brothers, Matt, a state champion track star who is preparing for an LDS mission, to return from an early evening run before breaking the news. Another brother is serving in the mission field. Shurtleff said the task was not easy.
"It was very difficult to take the information to the family and witness the anger and disbelief," said Shurtleff. He said neighbors in the quiet, rural community were equally devastated as the news spread.
Kent Gibbons recently completed his education at the University of Utah and was taking his first job. What had started as the first step in a promising future for Kent and Malinda Gibbons has left him caught in the quagmire of the present as police try to sort out the events of the tragic day.