King County Executive Dow Constantine and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus stand in front of the Clarion Hotel in Auburn on July 20, 2021. The hotel will be used to house approximately 100 people experiencing homelessness in the area as part of the county’s Health Through Housing program. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Auburn Reporter

King County Executive Dow Constantine and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus stand in front of the Clarion Hotel in Auburn on July 20, 2021. The hotel will be used to house approximately 100 people experiencing homelessness in the area as part of the county’s Health Through Housing program. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Auburn Reporter

Year in review: Top Auburn stories from 2021

It’s been quite a year for news in Auburn, from elections to vaccine roll-outs to fires that devastated two apartment complexes. At the Auburn Reporter, we’re looking forward to bringing you the local news that matters most in the new year. As we enter 2022, here’s a look back on some of our best articles from each month in 2021.

• Green River Killer victim identified: Wendy Stephens, who was 14 at the time of her murder, was identified as one of the Green River Killer’s victims in January of 2021 by the King County Sheriff’s Office. A forensic anthropologist working with the sheriff’s office positively identified Stephens about 37 years after her murder.

• Coffee shop owner calls on corporations to pay their fair share: In February 2021, the Auburn Reporter ran an article on Dan Olmstead, owner of Poverty Bay Coffee in Auburn, who said state lawmakers should kick-start the economy by making large corporations pay more in taxes. “Big corporations should pay their fair share just like the rest of us,” Olmstead said. “It’s the only way we will kick-start our economy and keep Washington a great place for everyone.”

• VRFA Fire Marshal Karen Stewart retires: After 16 years with the VRFA, Fire Marshal Karen Stewart retired in March 2021, ending her 30-year career. She first worked in Auburn as the department’s firefighter-emergency medical technician in 2005 before climbing the ranks to fire marshal in 2018. Stewart made history as the first woman to serve that role in the department.

• Council criminalizes homelessness: In April 2021, the Auburn City Council passed legislation that upgraded the crime of camping on city property from a civil matter to a criminal offense with possible jail time. The city claimed the ordinance was not intended to further penalize homelessness, but rather to link people experiencing homelessness with resources to get them off the streets.

• Auburn employer helps veterans and convicts restore their lives: The Auburn Reporter ran an article featuring Mari Borrero, a Kent teacher, hospice care worker and mentor who created a business to hire former convicts and veterans. Five years ago, Borrero created the American Abatement and Demo general contractor to give veterans and formerly incarcerated people a chance at a fresh start.

• Gov. Inslee visits the Auburn vaccine site: As COVID-19 vaccine centers popped up across the state, Gov. Jay Inslee visited a clinic in Auburn last June to talk with staff and encourage folks to get vaccinated. During his visit, Inslee made a press briefing in which he encouraged everyone in Washington to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The visit came at a time when vaccine uptake was slowing down in Auburn and surrounding areas.

• Fire devastates downtown apartment building: In July, the Max House Apartments building went up in flames, destroying 15 apartment units and several businesses. No one was injured. The Red Cross set up a temporary shelter for those displaced by the fire. The building was across the street from the Heritage Apartment building, which burned down in 2017.

• King County purchases Auburn hotel to house homeless: King County Executive Dow Constantine and Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus announced the purchase of the Clarion Hotel in Auburn, which will house homeless people as part of the county’s Health Through Housing program. The hotel, which is on B street behind the Auburn Municipal Airport, cost the county $11.8 million and will provide housing for roughly 100 people who are experiencing homelessness in and around Auburn.

• Harrison Maurus takes fourth place in Olympics: Auburn’s own Harrison Maurus placed fourth in weightlifting in the Tokyo Olympics. Maurus, who attended Auburn Riverside High School, placed the highest of any American man in Olympic weightlifting in 30 years. Maurus said he was happy to represent Auburn on a global scale.

• Kent Hay works to fight homelessness in Auburn: In September, Reporter staff went on a ride-along with Auburn’s homelessness outreach coordinator, Kent Hay. Hay visited a couple of encampments in the woods around Auburn and spoke at length about the difficulties people face when experiencing homelessness. Hay’s job is to do whatever needs to be done in order to find housing for people experiencing homelessness, and he won’t stop until everyone is off the streets.

• Auburn loses a community hero: Bobby Vogel, Auburn High School’s boys basketball team manager, number one fan and local hero, died Sept. 26. He never missed a game. Vogel, who was 78 at the time of his death, will be missed dearly by everyone who knew him, Auburn High School boys basketball coach Ryan Hansen said.

• Human composting in Auburn: In October, Auburn Reporter staff toured Return Home, the largest human composting facility in the state. Micah Truman, the founder of Return Home, spoke about some of the state-of-the-art technology that makes human composting or “terramation” possible and how his business is changing the way people process death. Rather than turning people to ashes, Return Home turns people into organic compost that can continue to sustain life after a person has died. Terramation also has a much smaller carbon footprint compared to traditional cremation.

• Orion breaks down barriers to employment: Auburn Reporter staff toured the Orion Industries facility in Auburn in November 2021. Orion is an aerospace manufacturing company with a social mission. Orion pays people minimum wage while they’re trained in a variety of areas including manufacturing, shipping and customer service work. Once the trainee feels comfortable with their abilities, Orion helps them find a job in a related industry. Over the past 11 years, Orion has helped around 2,640 people learn valuable workplace skills and find jobs.

• Mayors meet to roll back restorative justice program: In December 2021, the mayors of Auburn, Federal Way, Kent and Renton convened to discuss a supposed rise in crime and how to address it. They decided the solution would be to pause the diversion program for juvenile defendants known as Restorative Community Pathways. Instead of incarceration, the program finds other ways to hold youth offenders accountable. The mayors want to resume prosecution and incarceration of juvenile offenders until they can find the proper balance.


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Auburn High School basketball team manager and superfan Bobby Vogel died Sept. 26, 2021. Photo courtesy of Auburn High School

Auburn High School basketball team manager and superfan Bobby Vogel died Sept. 26, 2021. Photo courtesy of Auburn High School

Gov. Jay Inslee (left) bumps elbows with Auburn Vaccine Clinic staff member Mary Johnson (right) on June 22, 2021. Inslee visited the clinic to promote vaccinations in South King County. Sound Publishing file photo

Gov. Jay Inslee (left) bumps elbows with Auburn Vaccine Clinic staff member Mary Johnson (right) on June 22, 2021. Inslee visited the clinic to promote vaccinations in South King County. Sound Publishing file photo

Flames burst out of the roof of Max House Apartments on July 24, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Valley Regional Fire Authority

Flames burst out of the roof of Max House Apartments on July 24, 2021. Photo courtesy of the Valley Regional Fire Authority

Auburn’s own Harrison Maurus placed fourth in weightlifting in the Tokyo Olympics. Screenshot from Team USA Weightlifting

Auburn’s own Harrison Maurus placed fourth in weightlifting in the Tokyo Olympics. Screenshot from Team USA Weightlifting

Homelessness Outreach Program Coordinator Kent Hay delivers mail to a resident of a camp on Aug. 27, 2021. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing

Homelessness Outreach Program Coordinator Kent Hay delivers mail to a resident of a camp on Aug. 27, 2021. Photo by Henry Stewart-Wood/Sound Publishing

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