Man suspected of murdering mother, her daughter faces judge

The man suspected of murdering a mother and her little girl faced a Thurston County judge Friday.

THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. — The man suspected of murdering a mother and her little girl faced a Thurston County judge Friday.

Family and friends are mourning Charlene Van Auken, 34, and her daughter, Zoe, 4.

“This shouldn’t have happened. It’s a senseless, gruesome, heinous crime,” said Lisa Gunter. “I just want everybody to know that Charlene and Zoe were amazing. They were angels, and for anyone to do this to her and her child is evil.”

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Detectives said Nicholas Denham, 31, murdered the 34-year-old mother and her 4-year-old child.

Autopsies aren’t finished, but in court, the state said Van Auken had been shot in the head.

"It’s just devastating. Like, my friend, I was with her last week. It can happen anywhere. I just think we have to keep each other safe,” said Noel Parrish.

The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said the two were killed sometime between Monday night and Tuesday morning.

Investigators believe Denham dumped their bodies on an old logging road off Puget Beach Road Northeast. Hikers discovered them Tuesday evening.

“There is definitely visible trauma to the victims,” said Lt. Ray Brady.

It took some tough police work, but detectives identified the bodies and named Denham as their prime suspect.

Officers arrested him Thursday evening near Pacific Avenue Southeast and Carpenter Road Southeast.

They said he has a history of violence and dated Van Auken off and on for a couple years.

Van Auken’s friends can’t understand why anyone would hurt her and her little girl.

"One of the last things she said was, ‘Allow pain to make your light shine brighter,’ and I believe her light and Zoe’s light are shining. They’re going to continue to shine on her community and her family,” said Parrish.

Denham is being held without bail in the Thurston County Jail.

His arraignment is scheduled for March 24, at 9 a.m.