Slain girls were recent islanders

The sisters are remembered by former teachers as bright and outgoing.

Growing up on Bainbridge Island, sisters Hayley and Kelsey Byrne were “happy-go-lucky” girls whose sunny dispositions could never predict their tragic deaths, friends of the family say.

“They were bright, athletic and outgoing, truly two of the most wonderful children,” said Janice Pedersen of Hazel Creek Montessori, where the girls went to day-care and preschool. “Their parents did such a good job of bringing them along, of putting the children first.”

Pedersen and other friends are still grappling with the news of the girls’ deaths Monday, apparently at the hand of their father in a murder-suicide.

“It hasn’t hit me yet. I just can’t believe it,” Pedersen said, adding the island families with whom she has spoken who knew the girls are “just broken up.”

Police found Hayley Byrne, 9, and Kelsey Byrne, 11, dead in their beds at their father’s rental home in Edmonds early this week, reportedly after he sent an email to friends telling them of his intentions.

Stephen Byrne, 50, was found dead of a shotgun wound to the head in the back yard, according to published accounts.

The cause of the girls’ deaths remains under investigation.

The girls’ mother, former Bainbridge Island resident Suzanne Dawson, is distraught and in seclusion, said Pedersen, who spoke to her early in the week.

To help the community deal with its grief, Pedersen has arranged for a memorial service for the girls at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at Hazel Creek Montessori on Koura Road.

People who knew the sisters are invited to bring pictures and memories to share.

When news of the deaths broke, Bainbridge Island School District officials made counselors and psychologists available to students who knew the girls. The district website also issued a list of community resources on dealing with death and grief.

“They are remembered as pleasant, caring, conscientious girls,” the district said in a statement.

The girls last attended Wilkes Elementary in the 2002-2003 school year, with Hayley in Carol Baker’s first grade class, and Kelsey in Bill Covert’s fourth-grade class.

Covert is coordinating a memory book so that students can remember them with poems, letters and pictures.

“For some children, expressing their feelings about Kelsey or Hayley may help them find a sense of closure and a way to deal with their grief,” Covert said. “As I have dealt with grief, focusing on treasured memories has helped to deal with the pain.”

He hopes to give the book to the girls’ mother.

Although Pedersen and other friends of the family knew that Stephen Byrne was upset over his divorce and the girls’ mother, no one ever dreamed he capable of such a thing, she said.

“It absolutely is the absolute revenge,” Pedersen said. “You see this across the country, and it sends shockwaves. The ones that suffer, in the end, are the innocent ones.”

The family lived on Bainbridge Island until last year, when Dawson moved to be closer to her work at a pharmacuetical firm.

The couple were divorced in 2000 and the move was a continuing source of friction, prompting Stephen Byrne’s move to Edmonds to be closer to the children, friends said.

“He must of just snapped. I never even heard him raise his voice at those girls, ever,” said Ali Pederson, 19, who was the girls’ nanny at their mom’s house, and their babysitter at their dad’s.

She described the sisters as “amazing little girls, never any trouble, shy and angelic and very loving.”

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