Grieving families speak about Tri-Cities man, teenage girl found dead in Portland

KENNEWICK, Wash. - A quiet romance between two troubled young people has left each of their families grieving their loss. 

Annieka “Annie” Vaughan, 15, and Zach Petersen, 23, ran away together at the end of October. They were discovered dead in a Portland park on Wednesday. Police identified them on Friday, saying Petersen shot and killed her, then himself. 

They met in August this year at Petersen’s aunt Abby’s house in Kennewick, where he would drop off his 4-year-old son for her to babysit, according to his sister Hannah, 22, who lived with him in Pasco for the past three years. 

“He took care of me and my sister. He was always there for us. He was everything to us,” Hannah said in tears, seated next to some of her aunts, uncles and grandfather huddled around Abby's couch Monday morning. 

When Petersen’s grandpa Art got cancer and was unable to work, the family said Petersen quit a good job doing road work to help his grandpa’s fencing business. That’s the kind of person they remember in him.

Families said both Petersen and Annie struggled with depression, mental health issues and suicidal thoughts. She had a drug problem and he was on anxiety medication. They both needed help.

Annie had run away from home twice since her family moved to the Tri-Cities in October 2016. Her stepfather Bill Scott said she made it clear she was going to run away again, possibly to hurt herself.

After learning of Annie’s relationship and Petersen’s age difference, her mom and stepdad agreed to have her stay with relatives in Aloha near Portland, where she promised she would stay out of trouble. It worked for about two and a half weeks, her stepdad said.

He and Annie's mother learned she was given cell phone in Aloha, which she apparently used to communicate with Petersen. 

“I guess that they probably didn’t even take the age into consideration,” Scott said. “They felt like they loved each other or something.” He said he thinks the pair came up with a plan to run away together.

Petersen’s family agrees that he loved her despite the age difference and despite any relationship between them being illegal. Both families said they were extremely upset by the age difference and tried to talk each of them out of it.

On Oct. 30, Annie was declared missing and possibly with Petersen. On Nov. 8, their bodies were found a short walk away from Petersen’s truck. 

The families share a struggle for understanding. They have countless questions about the people they loved most, who they thought they knew better.

Annie's mom and stepdad have started attending grief classes. Petersen's family said they want police to investigate further into their deaths, hoping to uncover a better answer. 

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