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'They were the community': New Meadows community grieves over loss of Hartland Inn couple

"If I could tell Rory and Sara anything, it's just how much they'll be missed by everybody, they were the community," Matt Whitlock said.

BOISE, Idaho — On Oct. 1, two beloved members of the New Meadows community were taken.
Investigators say Rory and Sara Mehen were shot and killed at the Hartland Inn, which they owned.

John Cody Hart, the man suspected of killing them is currently behind bars and facing two counts of first-degree murder. But for those that knew the Mehens, the loss has left a deep void in their lives. 

"If I could tell Rory and Sara anything, it's just how much they'll be missed by everybody. They were the community," Matt Whitlock, a friend of the Mehens said. "We're at a loss now."

Rory and Sara were known for their love of life, the outdoors and a passion for the community they lived in; one that lit a spark in anyone who came in contact with the Mehens.

"They were up at Little Ski Hill, Rory was sending everybody down the hill and making jokes and having fun and I don't even know what we're going to do," Whitlock said. "Rory and Sara are a very welcoming couple."

"I miss his smile, I miss his laugh," Preston Woods, another friend of the couple, said of Rory.

"It's the type of laugh that you hear from people who really love life — and that was Rory," another friend Rick Farnsworth said, "Sara was a little more reserved but she loved people, always wanted to let you know you were welcome, make sure everything going fine."

"They treated you just like family from day one," Farnsworth added.

Hart was a guest at the Hartland Inn at the time of the murder. Court records show he drove to Idaho while still on probation in Washington, where he was accused of very violent assault charges.

Documents show Hart was schizophrenic and had been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial for the assault case. In July, three months before the shooting, a Washington judge let him out of jail until a bed opened up in Washington's psychiatric hospital.

"I couldn't believe it," Farnsworth said. "I'm still in shock about the whole thing because they were amazing people. To find out what transpired and how it transpired... it's just devastating. Devastating to lose them, but how we lost them just makes it ten times worse."

Those feelings were echoed by nearly everyone who knew them after they learned about the senselessness behind the tragedy.

"This community and everyone here is so close, and like family, that we're all here for each other and a phone call away," Garrett St. Pierre, a friend of the Mehens, said, "Like someone said at the memorial: 'don't let this anger take over you and just stay positive and keep this going for them, because it's what they would have wanted.' But it was very hard. Every time something exciting happens, I want to call and tell them the good news but I know they're listening to us wherever they're at."

"It's been really, really heavy and it's been a big void," Woods said. "And you can feel it just walking around town, but everyone is pulling through," Wood said.

Before he died, Rory was spearheading the building of a new skate and bike park in New Meadows.

"Rory and Sara had such a huge impact on everyone. Their memories are so deep. They will never be forgotten, but this is a great way to carry on their legacy with this park," Woods said. "Rory's life was kind of based around getting kids outdoors. When Rory settled in New Meadows and took over Hartland Inn from his parents he knew right away I got to find something to help these local kids, give them something to do." 

The skate park was his passion project, alongside his best friends.

"When Rory passed, the ball didn't even have chance to hit the ground," said Woods, "It was picked up and carried away and the next day I had people calling saying how do we continue on with this skate park."

But on Saturday, Oct. 29, the community came together to help continue on with the skate park. Hundreds of people showed up to the skate and bike park fundraiser.

"I guarantee 90% of people in the park right there knew them on a personal level," said Woods.

Together the community raised $41,000 to build the park. But building costs for a skate park can be anywhere between $600-800,000.

Including the money raised at last weekend's fundraiser, more than $130,000 have been donated so far to build the skate park.

"I know we're making Rory really really happy right now," said Woods. "We're going to get there, definitely going to get there. There's a lot of work to go and room for donations out there still."

When they get there, the Mehen's memories will be permanently cemented in the place they called home.

You can donate to the New Meadows Skate Park here.

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