They gathered under the red glow of Sacramento’s Torch Club late Thursday to say goodbye to a woman who, friends and family said, lit up the dark bar she frequented with her smile and brought joy wherever she went.
For the more than 50 people who came to honor Khrista Ibarolle, 31, who was killed Wednesday during an El Dorado Hills robbery and carjacking, the gathering was a bittersweet tribute that punctured happy memories with the pain of knowing they would never again be able to share such moments with the woman many described as their “best friend.”
“No one will miss her more than her family, who now have a Khrista-shape hole in our hearts,” her sister Leslie Mead said in an email to The Sacramento Bee. “She lightened the mood with charm and her vibrant smile. Always a smile. Always compassionate. She once walked a neighbor home from her parents home, right next door, because she believed no one should walk home alone.”
Deputies said Ibarolle died just after midnight Wednesday when she was shot by carjacking suspect Anderson Swift, 41, of Oakland, as she left 36 Handles Irish Pub and Eatery with a friend.
Swift was arrested a few miles from the scene and was booked into the El Dorado County jail on suspicion of murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, carjacking and theft of a motor vehicle, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
“When I learned it was her, I just felt this numbness, this disbelief,” said Lara Phelps, who cried as she explained that she knew Ibarolle for about a decade. “You don’t want to accept it as the truth.”
Ibarolle moved from Sacramento to El Dorado Hills in December to get away from the city’s noise, commotion and crime, friends and family said. She sought refuge in the quiet community of El Dorado Hills, which, officials said, had not had a homicide in 41/2 years.
But early Wednesday, crime and violence found her.
According to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, Ibarolle and a friend were leaving the bar about closing time when Swift approached them, demanding cash and car keys. As the women turned to run back toward the tavern, deputies said, Swift opened fire, killing Ibarolle.
Swift allegedly stole Ibarolle’s car and crashed it into a residential fence about 4 miles north on Silva Valley Parkway in El Dorado Hills.
It was the same car that carried her to campgrounds and trailheads as Ibarolle explored nature in California and beyond with her friends or her dog Anela often in tow, friends and family said.
Close friend Benjamin Bodea recalled Ibarolle’s ability to bring people together and push them to the limits of their comfort zones – with an encouraging smile and bubbly demeanor.
“She felt everything very deeply and cared a lot about others,” Bodea said. “She was empathetic, open-hearted.”
She played the piano and made jewelry. She was a licensed gemologist and owned her own business. She went to the Torch Club on Thursdays to dance to live music and mingle with a crowd of regulars who had taken her in as one of their own.
“Everybody’s really in shock,” Torch Club owner Marina Texeira said. “She was a beautiful person. I know you hear that from people a lot when someone dies, but Khrista was special. She had a beauty that shone from the inside out.”
Bodea recalled one of his favorite memories of Ibarolle, one that he said embodied her love of nature and musical spirit: The two had driven 60 miles on a dirt road out at the Grand Canyon’s north rim to find a camping spot. As night overtook their camp, Bodea said, they began to play Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album and listened as the music bounced off the canyon walls.
On Thursday night, local musician Matt Rainey was scheduled to take the stage at the Torch Club. Two nights ago, he had played at another local establishment: 36 Handles Irish Pub and Eatery.
He said he saw Ibarolle and her friend as they made their way into the tavern earlier that evening. He was sitting in his car, listening to Jerry Garcia music when Ibarolle turned and smiled wide.
“When I heard what happened the next day, I just knew it was her; I could feel it,” he said. “We only shared a moment, she smiled and said hello, but I feel this weird connection to her.”
It felt only right, he said, that he would now get to play for those who knew her longer and loved her most.