Out of habit, Phyllis Lyles Vontungeln of Pine Bluff awaits a daily telephone call from her daughter and “best friend,” Samantha Jo Doucet Olson of North Little Rock. But as her numbness from the shock of sudden tragedy wanes, Vontungeln finds it easier to remember that she and her daughter will no longer be able to converse.
Olson, 31, was killed in an unsolved shooting on Wednesday, Aug. 14, in North Little Rock. As the former Pine Bluff High School student was driving through the area of the busy intersection of John F. Kennedy and McCain boulevards, several shots were fired from a passing vehicle. Miraculously, Olson’s 11-month-old daughter — Linnea Gabrielle Olson, who was in the back seat of her mother’s small car — escaped harm.
North Little Rock police are intent on solving the case, and have requested the public’s help. A search for a 2007-10, red or maroon Ford F-150 extended-cab pickup truck — possibly with an orange tool box or welding in its bed — is under way and a “substantial” reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest. A 24-hour telephone tip line is open at 501-680-8439.
“I want them to catch the person who is responsible and prosecute them to the fullest extent,” Vontungeln said. “My daughter was loved by everyone who knew her. She had no enemies. She was my brightest ray of sunshine, and another ray for me was the fact that my granddaughter didn’t catch one of those bullets.”
The Rev. Bob Harper — former pastor of White Hall First Baptist Church — officiated at a celebration of Olson’s life Monday at North Little Rock’s Park Hill Baptist Church, where Harper is now an associate pastor. Although he hadn’t known Olson or her family, he said he quickly discovered she had graciously touched the lives of countless others.
“A lot of her family members came to the service and I met them and so many others who came to support her family,” he said. “It struck me that so many called her their best friend. I heard nothing but glowing comments about her. I wish I had known her.”
Her mother recalled Tuesday that Olson possessed a “sweetness” that was manifested in her kindness to people and animals alike.
“There should have been a revolving door at my house here when she was growing up,” Vontungeln said. “She had tons of friends who wanted to visit and spend time with her. She knew kids from school and also from playing softball here for a few years and dancing with (professional instructor) Dorothy Soto for about 10 years.
“And she always had an affection for animals, especially for any that might need to be rescued,” Vontungeln said. “She and her husband (Eric Olson) had three dogs, two cats and an aquarium as wide as one of those big TVs, and it was full of fish. My daughter was a wonderful, giving, loving kind of person who never met a stranger. She enjoyed being a friend to others.”
Olson had a mischievous sense of humor, but was also focused on “taking care of business,” her mother said.
“She loved to laugh, but would tell you like it was, too, without getting ugly about it,” said Vontungeln. “She was always determined to do better. She worked her way through (the University of Arkansas at Little Rock) as a waitress and finally got her degree and was working as an accountant. She was still working part time as a waitress and was supposed to be starting back at UALR again this week on getting a master’s degree. It’s just so sad.”
Her mother added that Olson, a devoted reader, was committed to her jobs and felt a kinship to co-workers.
“She liked working and wanted to stay busy with whatever job she was doing,” Vontungeln said. “And she loved her fellow workers. She felt like the workers at any job should care for one another like family. That was her personality.
“Getting married and having her baby and being able to work and taking care of her education made her dream come true,” Vontungeln continued. “She had wanted a child so long. She loved going to work and coming home to her family. She was a happy type of person anyway who didn’t complain, but she just loved what she was doing and the life she had with her husband and little Linnea. I miss everything about her, but it makes it a little easier knowing that the Lord gave her the time to see her dream come true.”
Olson also relished her role as “big sissy” to younger brother Jeremy Welshhons of Pine Bluff and sister April Welshhons Ibarra of Dallas, and “Aunt ‘Mantha” to Ibarra’s 8-year-old daughter, Lylyanna Ibarra of Pine Bluff.
Vontungeln regrets that she didn’t have an opportunity to bid Olson a farewell.
“I couldn’t help but remember what Samantha had done for me several years ago when I had cancer,” her mother said. “She let everything go and stayed with me during my treatments. I told her, ‘Baby, you’ve got your own life. You shouldn’t have to feel like you have to be here to take care of me all the time.’ But she wouldn’t hear of leaving me and said she wanted to be there, that that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I wish I could have told her goodbye.”
Vontungeln also wishes she and her daughter might somehow have “just one more” of their telephone chats.
“Samantha had a smile that could light up a room,” said her mother, her voice quivering with emotion. “It was so bright and powerful that I could hear her smile over the phone. I already miss that smile. I always will. But I’ll always remember it, too.”