Portland State student remembered as artist and activist
Amara Marluke's family may never adjust to talking about her in the past tense. Marluke, 19, was shot and killed early Monday, April 4 near the Portland State University campus where she lived.
Fellow PSU student, Keenan Harpole, 20, was arrested as a suspect in his hometown of Bend, after surrendering to police there.
Marluke was an arts and music major at PSU who was trying to figure out which path suited her best. University officials described her as an artist, activist and vibrant member of her community.
Her parents say she embodied resilience, kindness and ambition. She was driven to activism. Before enrolling at PSU, she graduated Sunset High School in Beaverton and served on the school's Black Student Union, speaking to peers and school leadership about the Black Lives Matter movement and how to help other students of color.
"I was just consistently blown away and proud, as a father," Brad Marluke said.
"She was passionate about so many things," Amy Marluke, Amara's mother, said. "When she found the BSU it really clicked with her and it gave her a voice. She was always so adamant about fighting for people."
Amy Marluke said her daughter spent her early years in and out of foster care before she and her younger sister were adopted by the Marlukes when Amara was 9. Amara was the eldest of three children in the family.
"Having a rough early life and going through the foster system, she was two years behind in school when she got to our family," Mrs. Marluke said. "Having to work so hard and struggle, she wanted others to know that your past doesn't dictate your future."
Amara Marluke had considered pursuing music or art therapy at Portland State. She loved music and wrote songs, but she also had a passion for helping others.
In a previously recorded speech she prepared to recite to her school board, Marluke called herself "a survivor of child abuse" and an "empathetic changemaker" who believed in unifying people to overcome barriers.
"I come here as a Black woman who fully embraces my blackness and knows that we can heal from the system and the history that still burdens so many hearts today," she said.
She worked at the Chipotle restaurant downtown near the PSU campus. Her parents said Amara often used her free meal allotment from work to feed a young homeless man in the area.
She had moved to the University Pointe apartments during summer 2021 before starting her freshman year at PSU. Shortly after moving in, she met and started dating Harpole, a former PSU Vikings football player. The Marlukes described Harpole as Amara's "on-again, off-again boyfriend," whom they had never met.
That was a red flag, Brad Marluke said, when Harpole never wanted to meet Amara's parents. They said he was her first boyfriend and first love interest, but at one point, the two got into an argument and Marluke said Harpole hit her, breaking a TV and a shelf in her apartment during the incident.
"We were all trying to get her away from him, but her heart was so forgiving. We'd have conversations and I would tell her, 'what's happening is not OK.' She would listen and give herself some space and she would go back (to him)," Amy Marluke said. "There were warning signs everywhere."
Her father told her to file a police report after the first incident of violence.
She said, "the police treat Black people so differently, what do I do?" Brad Marluke recalled. He encouraged her to report it to campus police. She agreed, but never followed through.
"He was her first love. She never dated before. She had no interest in dating in high school," Brad Marluke recalled. "She was organizing for Black Lives Matter and talking to the school board about what changes needed to be made to support BIPOC students. She didn't have time for boys and as a dad, I was like, 'this is fantastic.' While I didn't want to discourage her from dating, I also didn't want it to distract her."
After his arrest in Bend, Harpole was transferred to Multnomah County jail and charged with second-degree murder with domestic violence and unlawful use of a weapon. He remains in custody.
State data shows that Oregon received nearly 129,000 emergency help line calls from victims of sexual assault and domestic violence in 2018.
The Marlukes say they may never feel whole again, but they're trying to honor their daughter's memory by fighting for change. The family wants to see the state bolster support services and resources for survivors of domestic violence.
"If we can make change," Brad Marluke said, "if we can do better, it will at least take some of this heartache and sting away."
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