The community is reeling in the aftermath of what police say was the brutal murder of Walla Walla man Kyle J. Martz on Monday.
“Every couple of hours, I just cry and cry,” said Everett Maroon, executive director of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart and close friends with Martz.
Maroon is just one of many friends and colleagues who have come forward in the last week to speak through notes to the Union-Bulletin, online and in other public forums about the loss of 35-year-old Martz and his contributions to the Walla Walla community.
Friday night’s planned vigil for detainees being held at the U.S.-Mexico border, organized by the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition, shifted to include a memorial for Martz because the 2007 Whitman College graduate was beloved by members of that organization and knew them well through his recent work as Whitman’s international student and scholar adviser.
“Kyle was an invaluable advocate for the rights of immigrants and refugees in our community,” said Rachel Elfenbein, hotline coordinator with the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition.
“He never asked for credit for his volunteer work because he knew that the work was not about him, it was about uplifting those whom he served,” she wrote. “Our loss of Kyle is not only a loss for the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition, but it is also a loss for all the immigrants and refugees.”
A community grieves
Service and care played large in Martz’s life in Walla Walla.
Julia Ireland, associate professor of philosophy at Whitman and Martz’s friend, wrote to the U-B on Friday.
“Kyle lived hard and fully, always needing a smoke, in a state of constant pique, flamboyant in his speech and selfless generosity. He was big. A bear,” she wrote. “We are a small town, and sometime on Monday we were touched by an act of unspeakable horror. Kyle cut a wide swath in our community. He was not only Whitman’s international student adviser — beloved, necessary, and himself a Fulbright scholar — he was queer and loud and a committed social activist who worked tirelessly on immigrant rights. He was also kind. He lived what it meant to be of service to others seriously and specifically.”
Martz’s life ended Monday in a gruesome killing, according to police. Court documents charge 23-year-old Colby J. Hedman, a man formerly known to law enforcement as a transient in Heppner, Ore., with the first-degree murder of Martz.
A roommate came home that night at 331 S. Fourth Ave. to find Martz missing with blood and the smell of bleach in the home. Police found Martz’s dismembered remains in a locked garage. Hedman, arrested late Monday night in Baker City, Ore., admitted to striking Martz multiple times with an ax before stealing his car and fleeing, police stated.
“There aren’t words to express the sadness everyone in the Whitman community feels about losing Kyle,” Whitman College President Kathleen M. Murray wrote in a release shortly after word of Martz’s death was announced.
A tribute to Martz on the college’s website describes his impact on the lives of those around him.
“Kyle Martz ‘07 was a study in contrasts,” the tribute states. “Funny and macabre. Grumpy and delightful. Cheerful and positive and cynical. Straightforward, but never needlessly harsh. Unapologetically inappropriate at times in his humor, but never vulgar or cruel. In other words, he was authentically Kyle. He was nobody other than himself, so comfortable in his own skin that he made you comfortable in yours.”
A life of service
Since 2015, Martz served as Whitman’s international student and scholar adviser. In this role, he assisted current and prospective international students and alumni with the logistics of attending college in the United States — everything from giving guidance on visa paperwork to assisting with tax returns post-graduation, according to the college’s website.
Originally from Newport, Ore., Martz graduated from Whitman in 2007 with degrees in German studies and gender studies. In high school, he traveled to Germany in 2002 as a Rotary Youth Exchange Student. As a senior at Whitman, he was awarded a Foreign Language Teaching Assistant scholarship from the Fulbright Commission to teach English as a second language in Germany. In his application, Martz said his plan was to use “cultural ‘points of orientation,’ such as classic and contemporary literature, film and music to compare and contrast cultures” and help German students better understand U.S. culture, according to the college. He also was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, the tribute stated.
As a student, Martz received the David Nord award, which supports projects that address critical issues facing queer communities. In fall 2006, he was awarded a Sally Ann Abshire Research Scholar Award to work with gender studies professor Robert Tobin.
As a student, he was a member of the Coalition Against Homophobia. While studying abroad in Germany, Martz interned at Schwulen Beratung Berlin, a counseling and human services center for gay men. At the center, Martz spent four months interning in the geriatrics and HIV/AIDS prevention departments.
In Walla Walla, he worked with the Walla Walla Diversity Coalition to support programming and events to support multiculturalism. He served as secretary of Community Pride Walla Walla. He also was a member of the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition.
After returning from Germany in 2011, Martz worked as an international admissions assistant for Oregon State University in Corvallis and a preschool teacher in Newport, Oregon, before returning to Whitman as the supervisor and program assistant for the Glover Alston Center in 2012.
As a mentor, advocate and friend for international students and LGBTQIA+ students, Martz touched countless lives, the college website stated.
So much to so many
“He kind of found Whitman ‘by accident,’” said Kazi Joshua, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Whitman. “He didn’t know this place existed.”
It was a college counselor who pointed Martz toward Whitman, Joshua said. And Martz, being a low-income student, wanted to help others in his situation after he graduated. His time abroad during college also made him want to help international students and refugees. Martz had a direct role with 116 international students, about 8 percent of Whitman’s population, before he was killed, Joshua said, leaving a “hole in the campus that will never be filled.”
Aside from being a colleague, Joshua was friends with Martz.
“He was an intelligent and outspoken individual,” Joshua said. “If I was an international student, I would want Kyle to be my adviser.”
Adam Kirtley, interfaith chaplain at Whitman, also knew Martz well.
“It’s been my privilege to work closely with Kyle for the last several years,” Kirtley wrote in an email. “Whether student, staff, or faculty — whether needing help understanding the fine print on a government form, or a shoulder to cry on, or to hear the most infectious laugh the walls of Reid Campus Center have ever known — Kyle. He has been so many things to so many people.”
Earlier this week, as members of the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition prepared for a vigil they thought Martz would attend in person rather than in spirit, someone posted on their site: “The absence of Kyle Martz is being felt across our community ... Kyle’s laughter and sass, his fierce advocacy for diversity and his love of others. Over the coming days, we will be sharing resources to help as we grieve as a community.”
And true to form, Martz was also passionate about the work being done at Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, which provides free services to HIV and AIDS patients. Maroon, head of the organization, said he and Martz became friends about seven years ago.
“He was definitely the kind of guy who would take the shirt off his back for someone,” Maroon said.