Campus murder still unsolved

Kirk Ryan Kimberly was last seen by his family on Oct. 17, 2016. When the 18-year-old Cotati resident did not return home the following morning, his mother, Jennifer Kimberly, began searching the area for her only child. On Oct. 19, his father, Kelly Kimberly, filed a missing persons’ report. 

In the harrowing weeks that followed, a body was found on campus at Sonoma State University in a wooded area behind the Green Music Center parking lot. On Nov. 3, the body was identified as Kimberly. He had been stabbed to death and left in a shallow grave. 

Over two years later, no one has been arrested or charged in connection with Kimberly’s killing, but those close to the case say the investigation is still active. Sergeant Spencer Crum with the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office said, when asked about the investigation, “The detectives are actively working on leads with the family that I’m not at liberty to discuss.”

Jennifer Kimberly believes that the case will be solved. “It’s not cold. I can tell you it’s not cold,” she said. “As the months have peeled off, there have been glimmers of hope. They’re not giving us anything definite but they’re not giving up, they’re still working on it.” 

On Sept. 1, 2018, author Johnny Kerns released his book “Inherit the Whole Earth: Who Killed Kirk Kimberly.” Kerns is a forensic investigator who deals specifically with homicide cases. In his book, he names who he believes may be a viable suspect in the case. 

Kerns said that he used cell phone GPS data, as well as information provided by sources close to the case. The person that Kerns believes is the prime suspect is currently incarcerated for a home invasion in Rohnert Park. 

Kirk Kimberly, pictured above, was last seen alive on Oct. 17, 2016.

Kirk Kimberly, pictured above, was last seen alive on Oct. 17, 2016.

“I believe we know who killed Kirk, I name that person in the book, but I know that that person didn’t do it alone,” Kerns said. “The burial aspect gives me significant foundation for that belief. If this were just a 16 or 17-year-old kid who killed Kirk, that kid probably would not have been able to dig that grave, undiscovered, and bury Kirk, and dispose of the bike and of evidence all in that short timeframe.” 

Kerns has an interesting relationship with the Kimberlys today. He said that his relationship with Kelly Kimberly is nonexistent, but that he and Jennifer Kimberly still speak. “We have a good long relationship to this day. She feels guilty about the things that she discussed with me for the book,” he said. “They’re very fearful of damaging anything about the case that could lead to someone being brought to justice for Kirk’s murder, and also they want to protect Kirk’s reputation,” he said. 

Jennifer Kimberly said she just wants the truth. “We don’t know if anything in that book is actually the truth. Everything has been told to us by other people. It’s still an active investigation,” she said. “I’m very much caught in the middle of hoping it does some good and doesn’t hurt my son’s case. I hope it doesn’t hurt innocent people.” 

Kerns thinks that one of the reasons that the book was a difficult issue for the Kimberlys was that he revealed that Kirk had marijuana and Xanax in his system at the time of his death.

“I think I achieved balance by talking about all the good things that Kirk did and the great way that he was. He really was a handsome kid with a nice smile and a friendly disposition,” Kerns said. “At the same time, he was at the age where his friends were introducing him to drugs and unfortunately I think that’s what got him killed.”  

Today, Jennifer Kimberly is trying to find a silver lining, but she said she has yet to find it. She attends meetings of people in similar situations, and although she is not religious, she does pray. She said that it does not seem to help a lot, but a little help is better than nothing.

“I’m not a religious person but I got a message from God that I need to be strong, set an example, be loving, and be forgiving,” she said. “I don’t believe that was a thought that I generated because I have been angry, sad, and depressed. It’s very hard for me to be loving and forgiving, but I know that’s the right thing for me to do and I’m trying to do it.” 

“A mother loves her child more than anything in the world,” she continued. “He was the most important thing to me in the whole world. He was my purpose for living.”  

For Sonoma State, the question now is what to do with the site where Kimberly’s body was found. In the time since his body was discovered, the area has gone through some changes. Since it is an undeveloped part of campus, there were issues with vandalism and homeless encampments. Kerns described the area as “dark and foreboding.”  

Jennifer Kimberly hopes to erect a memorial in her son’s name at the site where his remains were found.

Jennifer Kimberly hopes to erect a memorial in her son’s name at the site where his remains were found.

“You have this beautiful scenic campus but right in the center you have an area that is not policed, where criminal activity can fester, and that’s going to impact the student population,” Kerns said. “So it’s really important that either patrols are stepped up, or you just go and clean up that area, wipe out that area, remove the vegetation so that you can understand what’s going on there.”

Jennifer Kimberly said that she vitis the site often, where she has left flyers and a cross, and she was shocked to see that Sonoma State had cleaned it up. What she would like to see next is a memorial in her son’s honor. “My son played the saxophone,” she said. “What I wanted to do is donate just a bench, a tile mosaic bench, and put a saxophone in it and maybe some rainbow colors, because rainbows signify tolerance of all types of people, and Kirk was very multicultural.”

The issue is that Jennifer Kimberly’s idea was conceived because she was under the impression that the area had plans to be used as a housing development, and that a pathway from the housing development would run along the site. 

However, according to Paul Gullixson, associate vice president for strategic communications at Sonoma State, that is no longer the case. “At one time there was discussion of possibly having that portion as part of that complex, but for various reasons having to do with planning issues, that did not work out,” he said. “There are no plans for that property at this time.” 

Gullixson said that, although the homeless encampments have been removed, the area is still not a place that should be considered safe. “We understand the importance of that site for her, it obviously has deep emotional connections,” he said. “At the same time, it’s in a remote area, there are no paths, there are no improvements to that area, and as such it’s very complicated in being able to have a safe space.”  

Jennifer Kimberly said she would like Kirk’s friends to share stories about him, “both naughty and nice.” She asks that people please share information with her if they hear it, but to not spread rumors as that only complicates the investigation. 

As for the person or people responsible for Kirk’s death, she would like them to know how much the truth means to her. “If I had a choice between knowing the truth or having the murderer incarcerated, I would choose the truth,” she said. “I need a brave soul to tell me what happened, how it went down, and why him. Why?” 

Kerns also has a message for those involved. “The state is willing to work with you, up until the point that the state has to come drag you out of your house,” he said. “If you cooperate prior to that point, the state saves resources, and you can show that you’re a good person for coming forward, you have every advantage -- even if you were standing there participating when Kirk was killed.”

“So as strongly as I can encourage those people who will read this article, they need to know that there’s an incentive in their own life, for the rest of their life, to come forward,” he said. “But the clock is ticking.”