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Friends remember Neil as being a caring person
Whenever Cara Neil asked someone how they were, she truly wanted to know.
If that person wasn’t doing great, she would ask why and those who knew her said she genuinely cared about the answer.
“(Caring) was in her name,” said Aaron Brouillette.
Brouillette first met Neil a little more than two years ago when she first became a customer at SoulFood Books (now SoulFood Coffee House) in Redmond, where he is a manager. He said despite her small stature, Neil would often order the largest-sized drinks whenever she visited SoulFood. As time passed, Brouillette said Neil became a regular and a fixture at the downtown coffee house — if she wasn’t inside, she could often be found hanging out with her friends just outside the cafe. Former owner Clint McCune even pinned a “sheriff” badge on her, giving her a sense of purpose and responsibility for a place she visited so often.
After becoming such a familiar face at SoulFood, it is no surprise that the cafe held a life celebration event in her honor the day after she died from stab wounds to the chest sustained from a fight that occurred on July 18.
After the incident, Redmond police arrested Redmond resident and suspect Daniel Haggart, who was charged with first-degree murder. He was arraigned on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty. A case setting hearing is scheduled for Aug. 20.
Neil died July 23 after she was taken off of life support. She was 17.
“It was and is an extremely traumatizing thing,” Brouillette said about the events of last month.
Brouillette, along with his brother Tylor Brouillette — who also works at SoulFood — and the coffee house’s co-owner Kevin Oaks, were on the scene when Neil was stabbed outside the cafe. The shop was closed, but the three men were still inside taking care of their end-of-the-night tasks.
In addition to memories of Neil’s large drink orders, Aaron remembers Neil seeking him out whenever he was having a tough time with things. Neil wouldn’t always say anything, sometimes just being there for him, Brouillette said. He said if she had been given time to grow, she would have become a highly empathic person — someone who has the ability to understand and share others’ feelings.
Alfredo Arnaiz, who also met Neil as a fellow regular at SoulFood, agreed that the teen was a caring person and a “complete sweetheart” despite the tough front she often put on for others.
“She had this very strong personality,” he said.
Neil knew what she believed in, but Arnaiz said she was extremely accepting of others.
Tylor had known Neil for about a year. The former Marine described her as fearless and recalled with a laugh how during one of their first meetings, Neil stood up to him and called him “little boy.”
“Very spunky individual,” Tylor said about Neil. “If she had an opinion, she let you know.”
Although they did not know Neil that well, Oaks and his fellow SoulFood co-owner Makia Ensley both had good things to say about her.
“She was friendly and personal with everyone,” Ensley said.
Oaks added that Neil was, “very much a free spirit.”
He and Ensley both said SoulFood is a community space and a second home for many people so they didn’t even think twice about holding a life celebration event in Neil’s honor.
The event brought in more than 100 people and included Neil’s parents and other family members, her friends from throughout the Redmond community and those who may not have known her personally, but had seen her around town. And because the event was held during SoulFood’s regular business hours, there were also customers who just came in for a drink or pastry and ended up staying for the event, Aaron said.
After Neil died, her family had her organs donated. This included her heart, which surgeons were able to repair and harvest for a recipient, despite the fact that it had been damaged from the stabbing.
“Her heart got to carry on, which is kind of amazing,” Aaron said.
A fundraising page has been started at gofundme.com/bxz4so for Neil’s family. So far, $5,738 has been raised toward the $10,000 goal. In addition, Bank of America in Duvall is also accepting donations for the family.