Images courtesy of the Castille family
Victoria McMullen, seen above with her daughter (center), was 22 years old when she bought a one way ticket to Seattle from California in September of 2012. Five days later, he body was discovered in a small lake in White Center, the victim of an apparent accidental drowning. Her family and friends are still trying to understand what happened.

Family, friends, investigators still struggling to understand White Center drowning

Victoria McMullen was a happy 22-year-old woman with a six month old daughter who had been married to her husband for a year, living near San Diego, CA. Friends and family said she was good about keeping in touch through Facebook and phone calls, and her father, Kenny Castille, said the two rarely went a week without talking.

So when a week went by in early September, 2012, without even a text message from his daughter, Castille said he knew something was wrong. He called his son-in-law, who said they had gotten into a fight on Sept. 2 and that he drove her to the airport. Leaving behind her phone (police believe as it was never recovered and no calls were made from Washington) and bringing only a small bag of clothes, she bought a one-way ticket to the SeaTac Airport. Castille called the El Cajon, CA Police Department and asked them to do a welfare check. They confirmed that a fight had occurred between the young couple, that Victoria had boarded a plane from San Diego to Seattle. Her husband stayed behind with their child, police said.

Five days later, around 10 a.m. on a sunny Sept. 7 Friday, 911 calls started pouring in: A woman’s body was floating in Mallard Lake, a miniscule body of water more akin to a retention pond that acts as the centerpiece of Coronado Springs Apartments in White Center. Shocked residents came out in droves, stunned by the sight as rumors swirled about foul play.

Wearing only her underwear and carrying no identification, King County Sheriff’s Office detectives set to figuring out who the woman was. Eventually, they were able to use a tattoo of a man’s name on her ankle to find her family and connect the dots with El Cajon police.

Victoria McMullen was the woman found in Mallard Lake, and the tattoo was of her husband’s name.

When the facts lead to more questions
What started as a potential homicide investigation was ultimately deemed an accidental drowning by KCSO investigators. There were no signs of trauma and the autopsy did not reveal any clear evidence of drugs or alcohol in Victoria’s system. Detective Scott Tompkins with KCSO said the key to determining the case an accidental drowning was the testimony of a 60-year-old Coronado Springs tenant who saw Victoria in the early evening hours of Sept. 2 (they day she arrived at SeaTac).

The woman said she watched Victoria hop the fence encircling Mallard Lake and start playing with a soccer ball along the shore. Suddenly, the woman told police, she saw Victoria entering the lake in what she believed was only her shirt and underwear. Witnesses did not see her remove her outer clothes, and they were never recovered by police.

“So she says she swims out there really well … and then she starts seeing her wave her hands in the air and she still doesn’t know if she’s playing around or if she’s in trouble because she’s not screaming for help,” Tompkins explained. The woman went to a neighbor’s door and asked him to take a look. By that time, Victoria had disappeared. “You are seeing things, there’s nothing out there,” the neighbor said. The witness figured the woman had gotten out of the lake and went about her day.

For investigators, along with Victoria’s friends and family, the questions began to focus on why she would come to Seattle with a one way ticket, and what happened during that day before she ended up at Coronado Springs.

Why would she go to Seattle? Victoria’s father Kenny Castille said she and her husband had lived in Bremerton while he was stationed at the naval base there, and Victoria had a friend living in Shoreline, but she never reached out to that friend before the flight and, otherwise, had no known connections in the area.

Why would she leave her daughter? Victoria’s cousin Sasha Benson, living in South Carolina but who stayed close with her cousin through Facebook, asked, “Why would she leave her child, who she loved dearly?”

Tompkins said there were a few interviews with acquaintances who said she may have been experiencing postpartum depression or other psychological troubles, but nothing was conclusive as Victoria had never reached out for professional help.

Others said they saw no signs that anything was wrong. “She was always just a happy person, that’s how she was,” Victoria’s cousin Shakena Shakesinder said. “She was a kind-hearted person who was always happy about something. Shakena said the two were pregnant at the same time and she had become a mentor for Victoria, coaching her through the process of being a first time mom.

Several friends said Victoria and her husband had ups and downs in their marriage as most do, but if she was looking to get away from that situation, they wondered, why wouldn’t she go to her parents in Colorado, or friends in other parts of the nation? Why would she go where she apparently didn’t know a soul?

Attempts by the Herald to reach Victoria’s husband have been unsuccessful, so the answers to what preceded Victoria getting on a plane around 4 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 2 remain murky, other than the El Cajon Police Department report that the couple had gotten into some kind of argument and he drove her to the airport.

For Detective Tompkins, the KCSO investigation picks up when Victoria got off the plane at SeaTac. The case is still open, he said, because “As far as where she was between the SeaTac airport and that pond, that is the big problem is we don’t know who she was with or what she was doing.”

The facts from their investigation show Victoria traveled from San Diego to Phoenix, and Phoenix to Seattle. Working with California police, they believe she traveled alone (or at least not with her husband), left her cell phone, and brought only a small bag of clothing.

She got off the plane shortly before noon, captured by a surveillance camera verified by Port Security to KCSO, and from there on out it becomes a mystery, with only electronic debit card transactions providing hints.

At 12:44 p.m., she apparently uses her card at a US Bank ATM in the airport, entering her pin number wrong four times before getting it right on the fifth, and pulled out $40.

Nearly five hours pass. At 5:25 p.m., her debit card was used at Walgreens in White Center. At 5:39 it was used again at the same location (both small purchases). At 5:44 p.m. it’s used at a White Center Texaco station.

Tompkins obtained surveillance footage from Walgreens. Looking at the busy checkout stands, he was unable to find her anywhere.

“I think somebody had obtained her ID card (and ATM card) by that time,” he said. How or why that occurred is completely unknown, and the mass of people at the check stands during the transactions make it impossible for detectives to pinpoint one person who was using her card.

Shortly thereafter, Victoria shows up at Coronado Springs and the 60-year-old witness is the last to see her alive, and seemingly alone.

How did she drown? All of Victoria’s friends and family who spoke to the Herald mentioned she was an avid and talented swimmer. Navigating the waters of meager Mallard Lake should not have been a problem.

“It’s just bizarre, it seems with this type of behavior there would have been more tell-tale signs seen by her family and friends building up to this,” Tompkins said.

Victoria’s friend Luvenia, living in Shoreline, said she introduced Victoria to her husband back when he and Luvenia’s husband were stationed in the Navy at Bremerton in 2009. The two women became good friends through that process, and Luvenia still questions to this day just what happened.

“She could have called me (to say she was coming), she didn’t tell a soul,” she said. “How on God’s earth did she make it from SeaTac to White Center?”

In an attempt to find answers and closure, Luvenia said she visited a psychic.

“(The psychic) said (Victoria) died a negative death, that she had a little alcohol in her system, and that she was with two people when she died. She said she wasn’t murdered. She wants you to move on from this, she’s OK now,” Luvenia recalled.

For Victoria’s father Kenny, those unanswered questions and mysterious circumstances surrounding her final days continue to haunt. He said his relationship with her husband has crumbled in the aftermath of her passing, severing that avenue of attempting to understand where his daughter was at mentally in her last hours.

“She was so happy when she was alive,” he said.

Victoria was laid to rest in Colorado, where she grew up.

If anyone has information on Victoria McMullen’s whereabouts from SeaTac to White Center on Sept. 2, 2012, they are encouraged to contact the King County Sheriff’s Office. While it’s unknown if any crime occurred leading up to her drowning, investigators hope to one day at least help her family and friends put the missing pieces together.

Edited on May 29 to reflect the witness who watched Victoria enter Mallard Lake did not see her take off her outer clothes, per the original story.

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