Milana Li left on one of her usual walks Sunday in the Southwest Beaverton neighborhood where she lived, but her family started worrying when the 13-year-old didn’t make it back to the apartment by her 8 p.m. curfew.
The Conestoga Middle School student loved going with friends to Starbucks or Jamba Juice at the Progress Ridge TownSquare shopping center nearby.
It was normal for her to walk for 30 minutes to an hour along the Westside Regional Trail to Barrows Park. She left about 4 p.m.
Just 48 hours after she went out for a walk, Li’s body was found in a small stream near the trail.
Her family has no idea what happened to the sixth grader, said friend Rstay Hofman.
“We are all shocked,” Hofman said. “It feels like we’re living in a movie. We live in such a safe neighborhood. How someone could do this to a 13-year-old, we don’t understand.”
Beaverton police have said they are investigating Li’s death as a homicide, but have not released further details to the public – or to Li’s family, Hofman said.
They have said only that they do not believe the community faces a continued threat and that they are following several leads, declining to answer further questions.
“We just think (Milana Li) went for a regular walk,” Hofman said. “It didn’t seem like she was a runaway, because she left everything except her cellphone at home. We don’t know if she met someone or if she was in the wrong place at the wrong time, we just don’t know.”
Her mother, Assel Li, reported Milana missing at 1 p.m. Monday.
The family moved to Beaverton three years ago from Pavlodar, a city in the northeast of Kazakhstan, near the Russia border.
Milana Li’s grandmother settled in the Portland area 20 years ago, and her father, Andrey Li, travels back and forth between the U.S. and Kazakhstan, where he runs a business. He flew home to Beaverton this week after news of his daughter’s death. The couple have two other children, 18-year-old Nikita and 5 year-old Arina.
Hofman said people in the small, tight-knit Kazakh community in Oregon and the broader community of Russian-speaking immigrants have been reaching out in droves, asking how to support the family.
“We all know each other and we try to stay close with people from the same country,” said Hofman, who is also originally from Kazakhstan. “Since the news, a group of friends went to (the family’s) home, some stayed overnight, and others have been bringing food and supporting the family.”
Many mothers are worried about the safety of their own children, Hofman said, especially because police have not said anything about suspects in the case.
Hofman started a GoFundMe for the family, raising more than $20,000 in a few days.
“Milana was a light, a true friend who opened up her warm heart to everyone and truly listened,” Hofman wrote on the fundraising site. “She was a wonderful daughter, her parents (Assel and Andrey) could trust and depend on her. In her short 13 years on this earth, she made a lasting difference in the lives of many and forever touched our hearts.”
Hofman said Li couldn’t wait until she was old enough to get her CPR training and start babysitting. She was responsible and a big help around the house, taking care of her younger sister when her mother was at work.
When the family moved to Beaverton, Li didn’t speak any English. But she was transitioning well and learning the language quickly, Hofman said.
Li loved her school and teachers. She enjoyed reading comic books. Her mother described her as a calm, sweet and quiet child from the moment she was born.
The family is planning a small funeral and later a public memorial service.
“It’s really hard,” Hofman said. “She was just a kid.”
Li was like a second mother to her little sister so when she didn’t come home Sunday night, her family decided not to tell Arina right away.
The young girl started crying though, Hofman said, and told her family, “I miss Milana.”