Vegas victimHAIKU, Maui -- In the rural Haiku community of pine trees and pastures, most people remember Heather Vitarelli's smile and her kindness.
mourned as a
Heather Vitarelli, 29,
died yesterday from a stray
gunshot at Harrah's
By Gary T. Kubota
That her life was taken away by a stray bullet in a Las Vegas casino yesterday morning has stunned her family and friends and left them wrestling with why such a caring individual should die.
"They really feel bad that it happened to a wonderful person," said Kitch Richie, a close friend speaking on the steps of Vitarelli's home where her family was inside in mourning.
"How many millions of people go to Las Vegas every day? We never hear about shootings."
Vitarelli, 29, a 1988 Baldwin High School graduate, died from a single gunshot wound to her back in the main casino at Harrah's Hotel and Casino as a suspected thief, identified as 31-year-old Stephen Mullen, struggled with security guards and fired at least two shots from a handgun about 35 feet away.
A 43-year-old security guard was wounded in the abdomen. Mullen's alleged partner, 31-year-old Michael Frimmel, was apprehended in a different location.
Vitarelli was living in Concord, Calif., while studying human development at California State University at Hayward. She was to graduate in May and return to Maui.
"She was going to come back home and start her new life here," Richie said.
Vitarelli had flown from Concord to Las Vegas to see the husband of a friend perform in a musical band.
"They flew in for the weekend," Richie said. "Her close friends were there with her."
Tom Jenkin, general manager of Harrah's, said in a prepared statement, "We are deeply saddened by this senseless tragedy."
Richie said Vitarelli worked at a couple of jobs while attending college but always found the time to be with friends.
A neighbor, Clyde Holokai, remembered her friendliness. "She was always smiling. I'll always remember her smile," he said.
Glenys Dorr, the owner of The Body Shop at Whalers Village in Kaanapali, said Vitarelli worked for her as a manager for two years and was an outstanding employee as well as a "dear friend."
"She was just a magnificent human being, always with a smile on her face," Dorr said.
"She was a Maui rainbow and we'll miss her terribly. We are absolutely devastated about this."
Richie said Vitarelli left Maui for the mainland after the death of her brother from a drug overdose. She said Vitarelli had healed enough from the loss to return to the Valley Isle.
She said Vitarelli called her occasionally to ask her to visit her grandparents, who are in their 90s, and she was looking forward to a celebration with old friends on Maui after her graduation.
Richie said Vitarelli had a lightness of being that made her family and friends happy to be around her.
"She was always, always positive and nonjudgmental. She always had time for you," Richie said. "She was my angel. She'll always be my angel."
Richie said her family plans to hold memorial services for her on Maui.