SULLIVAN TWP. — Adventurous, family-oriented and with dreams of traveling the world as a flight attendant.
That is how Keflyn Donley chose Wednesday to describe her late friend as she remembered Mikayla Sotherland, a 2017 Black River High School graduate.
“Mikayla Sotherland, or as everyone called her, Kayla, was the most adventurous person I’ve ever known,” Donley, 19, of Spencer, said in an email. “Kayla was probably her happiest if she could spend time with her friends and family and eat some tacos.”
Donley said she was in shock when she learned the woman she called her best friend for more than 10 years was killed recently in the Columbus area, where the 20-year-old lived with her boyfriend, 21-year-old Ryan Fuller.
According to Columbus police, the bodies of Sotherland and Fuller were discovered Sunday in a 2005 white Dodge Caravan on South Harris Avenue in the Hilltop area of the city.
In a Facebook post, Columbus police said the department’s Missing Persons Unit originally began investigating the case Oct. 27 as a disappearance. Police found the bodies of the young couple a week later.
“On Nov. 4, information was received that there were two bodies in a van on South Harris Avenue,” the post said. “Patrol officers responded and found a 2005 White Dodge Caravan with two bodies inside. The victims were pronounced deceased at 1:22 p.m. and 1:23 p.m. The van was transported to the Franklin County Coroner’s office with the bodies inside.”
Columbus police said officers arrested John Jordan Jr., 54, near the van and took him to Columbus Police headquarters, where detectives interviewed him and said he confessed to killing Sotherland and Fuller.
He faces murder charges in Columbus.
The deaths are the 90th and 91st homicides of the year in the city.
Messages on the post point to dreams and aspirations of both Sotherland and Fuller, who according to one comment enlisted into the U.S. Marine Corps.
Donley said Sotherland had traveled to France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain, and attended the International Air and Hospitality Academy after high school to become a flight attendant, earning her “first set of wings.”
“She always had a dream of living in Florida and enjoyed spending time on the beach watching sunsets,” Donley said.
According to her obituary, Sotherland enjoyed horses and although she rarely saw a sunrise, she loved sunsets. She enjoyed four-wheeling, going on boat rides, and one of her favorite places was the beach. She truly enjoyed relaxing, spending time with family, friends, and she treasured making memories, the obituary said.
“Use your second set wings to explore this beautiful world, seeing the places you always dreamed of, and never ending your adventure. You will forever be your Dad’s lil chipmunk,” said a personal note included from her father.
Sotherland was the daughter of Deanna and Greg Sotherland and David Peters and Michele Nethers.
According to his obituary, Fuller was a Columbus native who attended West High School in Columbus.
Black River Local Schools Superintendent Chris Clark said the district will host a candlelight vigil for Sotherland at 5 p.m. Friday in front of Black River High School, 233 County Road 40, Sullivan.
Clarks said the district was made aware of Sotherland’s death earlier this week, and had grief counselors available for students and faculty.
“Our hearts go out to the family from this situation,” Clark said in an email Wednesday. “We still have counselors on call and we have an active clergy association in our area, to assist students with coping as well.”
Clark said that Sotherland was a student trainer for the Black River athletic department and also participated in other organizations such as soccer, drama and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA.
Donley said she and Sotherland shared a love of horses since they were in the fourth grade together.
“While she never got to fulfill her dream of traveling the world as a flight attendant, she enjoyed the memories she made and the places she went in the short 20 years she had,” she said.