Former Nevada Union High valedictorian found dead on beach near UC Santa Barbara

A young woman who was found dead Sunday on a beach near UC Santa Barbara was a 2012 graduate of Nevada Union High School, where she was remembered Monday as a cheerleader, debater and class valedictorian.

Sierra Markee-Winkler, 20, was in her second year at the university, pursuing a double major in philosophy and language, culture and society. The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department reported that her body was found Sunday morning on the beach in Isla Vista.

A bicyclist discovered Markee-Winkler on the shore below the 6800 block of Del Playa Drive and called 911. Isla Vista Foot Patrol and Santa Barbara County Fire Department personnel responded and determined that she was dead.

“There is nothing to indicate foul play at this point, but we are in the early stages of the investigation and are not ruling anything out yet,” Kelly Hoover, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman, said Monday. “We are not sure how she died. An autopsy is scheduled for later this week.”

Sheriff’s officials said the exact cause and manner of death will not be determined for several weeks and is pending a coroner’s investigation.

A UC Santa Barbara spokeswoman said she could not discuss Markee-Winkler, except to confirm that she was a student at the university.

Jeff Dellis, a teacher at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley, said Markee-Winkler was an outstanding student.

He said she was a cheerleader and member of the high school’s policy debate team.

“It’s pretty unique for someone to make the time commitment to be involved in cheerleading for four years and participate in the national debate circuit,” he said.

He described Markee-Winkler as a bright, passionate young woman. As her college majors indicate, she was interested in philosophy and the meaning of life, as well as feminist issues, Dellis said.

“There was nothing superficial about Sierra,” he said.

Dellis noted that Markee-Winkler served as a mentor to younger debaters in the high school program.

“The senior debaters who she mentored were all impacted by her death,” he said, adding that he discussed it with students during class Monday.

Markee-Winkler’s family moved to Eureka shortly after she graduated from high school, but Dellis said he had seen her in town last summer and she indicated that she was enjoying college.

Markee-Winkler was living in Isla Vista, a densely populated beachside community largely occupied by students.