Homicide victim was childlike





She wanted desperately to be independent. A grown-up. Like other 22-year-olds.

But Jessica Kate Williams, born with fetal alcohol syndrome, had the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, her family says. She lived with her parents in Gladstone. She wasn't allowed to drive. She got along best with children, especially her 9-year-old nephew.

At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Jessica was a "little girl in a big woman's body," said her sister, Noel Williams, 18. Despite her imposing figure, she was "a big teddy bear, the sweetest, most kind person," her sister said. She wore a beaming smile, and was quick to give and receive hugs and kisses.

So Williams' family was baffled when her body was discovered between railroad tracks near the Eastbank Esplanade early Friday. She had been beaten over the head.

Portland police detectives are still investigating the death, said Henry Groepper, a Police Bureau spokesman.

But some who knew Williams forecasted danger. As much as Williams craved independence, she was dependent on others.

Unbeknownst to her parents, Williams had affiliated with gang members over the last decade, said Loren Whitcomb, 17, a close friend of Williams. Whitcomb met Williams four years ago at a friend's birthday party.

"Jessica was like a little sister to me, even though she's older than me," Whitcomb said. "She was sweet and innocent. She wasn't a person who beat up people."

Williams lived with Whitcomb's family in Southeast Portland for a week when she was having problems at home earlier this year, Whitcomb said. She also lived in a downtown Portland shelter for a couple of months, where she befriended homeless youths. And during the week before her death, Whitcomb said, Jessica lived beneath the Steel Bridge.

On Wednesday, Jessica visited the Whitcombs to borrow a bike from Loren. His father, Terrence Whitcomb, said he talked to Williams for about 45 minutes to persuade her to return home to her parents. Williams promised to meet with her pastor about her family problems, Terrence Whitcomb said.

Sam and Rebecca Williams adopted Jessica when she was 9 months old. She was one of their 14 children -- ages 8 to 40 -- nine of whom are adopted and seven of whom have some form of disability, Noel Williams said.

Jessica Williams graduated from Gladstone High School in 1999. She learned to take the bus and worked at Ross Dress For Less in downtown Portland during the last holiday season.

Rebecca Williams kept close tabs on Jessica and made it a rule that she check in regularly. And Jessica did -- often late, sometimes from a friend's house, the streets or a downtown homeless shelter -- but she always called to tell her family she was OK, Noel Williams said.

Her family last saw Jessica on May 17, when she left her Gladstone home over her mother's objections to hang out with friends.

The outgoing, bubbly Williams was naive and trusting, quick to see the best in people, family and friends say.

Williams' family said they worked to keep her safe but that it was hard to set boundaries once Williams reached adulthood. According to her family, she didn't think about consequences. She had no sense of time. She could not foresee danger. She couldn't tell when someone was trying to take advantage of her, said her aunt, Cindy Allison.

"Jessica didn't want to recognize that she had the mind of a child," Allison said. "She just wanted to make a life for herself. She wanted to be what a normal 22-year-old could be."

Tracy Jan: tracyjan@news.oregonian.com


FAS Community Resource Center