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Originally published August 20, 2009 at 3:28 PM | Page modified August 21, 2009 at 2:09 PM

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Slaying of Sammamish piano teacher "like the day our music died"

More than a week after Rhan Rha was found slain on a boat in the San Juan Islands, her friends are still reeling over the death of the beloved Eastside piano teacher.

Seattle Times staff reporter

More than a week after Rhan Rha was found slain on a boat in the San Juan Islands, her friends are still reeling over the death of the beloved Eastside piano teacher.

"It just felt like the day our music died," said Mary Ann Odenthal, of Sammamish, whose 8-year-old son was taking lessons from Rha.

Rha, who lived in Sammamish and had been teaching piano for about nine years, was found strangled Aug. 12 in the forward berth of a 36-foot powerboat, Moon Angel, owned by Albert Beutler, a man she had been dating. Beutler, 39, of Bellevue, fatally shot himself the same day as investigators closed in on the boat off Orcas Island.

Police and the Coast Guard began looking for Beutler after he sent a text message to a friend in which he claimed he had killed his girlfriend, according to Bellevue police.

Rha, 39, a South Korean national and the mother of a 10-year-old boy, had been strangled and Beutler is believed by investigators to have killed her.

The San Juan County Coroner said the condition of her body suggested she was killed on the boat before it reached the San Juan Islands.

What happened between the two is still under investigation and might never be fully known because of a lack of witnesses and conclusive evidence, said San Juan County Sheriff Bill Cumming.

For her close friends, who called her "Rhani," the investigation is of interest, but what they are focusing on is the loss of a valued member of the Sammamish community.

"She always had a bright smile on her face. Bubbly personality. She always made the best out of any situation," said Natalia Mackevicius, a Sammamish resident whose son is a friend of Rha's son and took piano lessons from Rha.

Rha's son, Noah, is now with his father, who lives nearby and was divorced from Rha several years ago, Mackevicius said. The father and son have left on a planned vacation, she said.

Rha's friends said they have set up a fund for the boy at Bank of America branches.

Rha taught lessons out of her home, where, according to friends, she made a special effort to include children with special needs, including an autistic pupil. She referred to her pupils as her "angels."

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"Her students just absolutely adored her," said former boyfriend Jamison Linton, of Kirkland. "She had a soft place in her heart for students with disabilities."

In her résumé, Rha wrote, "I have a passion for developing children and watching them blossom."

According to the résumé, Rha lived in South Korea until she was 25.

She studied music and fashion at a university in Seoul and worked as a Sunday school teacher and kid's camp coordinator in South Korea, the résumé says.

After leaving South Korea, Rha lived in Virginia before moving to Sammamish, Mackevicius said.

Linton described Rha as a strong Christian, who played piano for her church.

A memorial service filled with music was held for Rha on Monday. A brother who is studying in Los Angeles attended but her mother and two sisters in South Korea could not, Mackevicius said.

Friends said Rha had begun dating Beutler in the late spring and was trying to end the relationship.

She had become concerned that Beutler was possessive and obsessive, Mackevicius said.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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