Police investigation continues in Santa Rosa sidewalk slaying
Published: Friday, November 2, 2012 at 9:39 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 2, 2012 at 6:29 p.m.
Police detectives spent Friday trying to reconstruct the final days and weeks of a young mother and one-time Cloverdale High School student who was found stabbed to death on a busy Santa Rosa street early Thursday morning.
Michela Anne Wooldridge, 24, had recently been homeless but has family around Northern California, including her father and brother, who live in Lakeport, her mother in Humboldt County and a 2-year-old son who lives with his father in Clearlake.
But her life had fallen apart in recent years because of her use of drugs, mostly methamphetamine, said former boyfriend Nick Azbill. She seemed unable to quit, despite several attempts at rehabilitation and the ongoing support of family and friends, he said.
Wooldridge came to Santa Rosa about a month ago to try again at the Victory Outreach Women's Christian Recovery Home in Santa Rosa, according to Azbill, police and mission personnel.
She stayed about a week, leaving Oct. 11 with a man she met in Santa Rosa, Azbill said.
Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Dave Linscomb said Wooldridge apparently stayed at several local shelters in recent weeks, but investigators were still piecing together her last few days, and had no suspect. It was not clear if she'd been in the company of a man.
Linscomb said she quickly made friends and acquaintances in the homeless community.
"We're just trying to find people who might know her and that type of thing, and trying to track down her timeline," he said Friday.
Wooldridge was found dead around 5:20 a.m. Thursday when runners came across her body sprawled in a driveway between Bertolone Realty and The Lamp and Shade Shop on Fourth Street just east of College Avenue.
Police said she had multiple stab wounds, but there were otherwise no signs of a struggle, robbery or sexual assault that might have provided some context or clue to her death.
An autopsy was being conducted Friday.
A close friend from middle school and high school who took flowers and candles to the Fourth Street sidewalk said she talked to her friend about six months ago and thought she had been doing well.
Finding out Wooldridge had recently been in Santa Rosa and had nowhere to go makes the situation all the more distressing, said friend Sarah Ornbaun, who lives in Santa Rosa.
"She was my best friend for a lot of years," Ornbaun said. "It really breaks my heart. She was a special person."
Wooldridge spent much of her childhood in Cloverdale, where her father, Randy, was proprietor of Dick's Barber Shop on First Street.
Friend and classmate Jenny Gray said she met Wooldridge around kindergarten, and they played together often. She said Wooldridge moved away for several years when her parents split up, but returned to Cloverdale for part of high school and was uplifting to be around.
"She was just a really nice girl," Gray said. "She got along with everybody."
Ornbaun said Wooldridge was always attuned to how others were feeling, and would grab your hand, sit down and listen if you were having a bad day.
She said Wooldridge provided critical support when Ornbaun's father was sick and dying, and was a good friend afterward, as well.
The two stayed in touch after high school, when Wooldridge seemed to have trouble finding her path in life.
Azbill said the couple met in 2008, when Wooldridge was living with her father in Lakeport and worked with Azbill at the local Dollar Tree. They fell in love, moved in together and were going to be "blessed" with a son when they moved to Rio Dell so Wooldridge could spend her pregnancy near her mother, Elizabeth Vawter, a Carlotta resident.
Their son, Jaiden, was about 6 months old when the couple broke up, though they had occasional reconciliations.
Wooldridge, who had some previous experience with drugs, began using drugs more regularly, said Azbill, who by then was living in Yuba City and making weekly trips to Humboldt County to visit his son.
Once a caring, loving woman, she "just spiraled down," becoming confused, unpredictable and unsafe, Azbill said.
Eventually, Wooldridge stopped coming home and was staying, with Jaiden, on friends' couches. Her mother, worried about the boy, called Child Protective Services and Wooldridge lost custody of the child, "her whole world," Azbill said.
"What's sad is everyone has tried to help her, and it's just sad because her mom has tried to help her so many times," he said, including getting Wooldridge an apartment and getting her into a residential recovery program that she did not complete.
After leaving the Humboldt County center about two months ago, Wooldridge took a bus to Ukiah, staying for a short time, and then came down to Santa Rosa with high hopes.
But when she and Azbill talked, she complained about the tedium and early hours of the Victory Outreach program, and, though it was a one-year program, said she just wanted to be done.
When they last spoke Oct. 11, she said she was leaving the center with a man she'd met in Santa Rosa, prompted in part by her expectation that she might be asked to leave anyway because her friend had been at the home after hours.
Wooldridge talked with Jaiden, who turns 3 in two weeks, and Azbill sent her some photos of him.
It was their last conversation, though Wooldridge left him a voicemail later that day talking of how she longed to see her son.
"As hard as it is for me to think about she's gone, it would be even harder knowing that he was with her and something could have happened to him," Azbill said. "I'm just so grateful that he's safe."
A $2,500 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in the case through the Sonoma County Alliance "Take Back Our Community" program.
Anyone with information is asked to call the Santa Rosa Police Violent Crimes Investigation Unit at 543-3490.
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