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Palm Coast daughter’s tribute to slain mom grows daily

September 23, 2018

PALM COAST, Fla. (AP) — It’s a place of solace for Ilana Shimmel, one she now regards as her true “home.”

Ilana and her mother, Michele Shimmel, who was found stabbed to death at her Palm Coast home on Aug. 23, 2017, often volunteered together at the Florida Agricultural Museum in Palm Coast. Their bond blossomed there over the years.

“This was just our peaceful place,” Ilana said during a recent interview on the museum grounds. “Our house wasn’t always peaceful. It was always a lot of yelling and family stuff. So this was just a nice place for the both of us.”

Now Ilana, 20, is sinking roots into museum soil by building a tribute to her mother. She’s planted a tree as part of a memorial shrine that she’s adding to, piece by piece.

?(It’s) someplace I can go talk to her, remember her,” Ilana said of the site.

The horrific act of violence that fractured the Shimmel family last year ripped away any peace Ilana and her mother once shared. Michele was brutally killed, according to authorities, by her now-23-year-old son Nathaniel Shimmel — Ilana’s older brother. Deputies say Nathaniel stabbed Michele repeatedly the night of Aug. 23 after she threatened during an argument to kick him out of the family’s Woodhollow Lane home in Palm Coast.

One year later, the emotional wounds are so deep that Ilana still can’t bear to return to the home in which she grew up. In fact, she said she hasn’t returned since the night of the murder.

But the 20-year-old doesn’t plan to let the anniversary of her mother’s death haunt her. Instead she will turn to her sanctuary and try to reflect on happier times that she and her mom enjoyed. She’s carved out a small corner of the museum grounds and turned it into a hallowed space, building a memorial where she and others can pay tribute to the woman Ilana still calls her best friend and hero.

“Even if I decide not to live here forever and I move, I can come back and still visit it, and that’s such a huge thing for me,” she said. “No matter what in my life, this will always be my home.”

The tribute site is on a small knoll in the northwest corner of the museum’s 460 acres, an isolated patch of land where Ilana and Michele spent many hours together.

Michele Shimmel’s remains were cremated, but a family friend thought up the idea for the memorial and approached Gospel Gardens, a Bunnell nursery, asking them to donate a tree. Owners there agreed and Ilana picked out a Shumard oak.

Shumards are a red oak shade tree species with wide canopies that can grow as high as 120 feet and live more than 500 years. Ilana planted it at the site earlier this month and added a flower bed at the base of the tree on Saturday. She also installed a stone plaque dedicated to her “beloved mother” that reads “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.”

She plans to buy a bench so she can one day sit beneath the tree, enjoy quiet time and think of her mom.

“I know she will do everything she can to keep that tree alive,” said Joni Carey, nursery manager at Gospel Gardens. “Both the owner and I are just so honored she came to us and picked out something that she loved and thought her mother would love.”

It was Ilana’s love of horses that drew her to the agricultural museum off Old Kings Road in Palm Coast as a girl. She was involved in the Flagler 4H program and visited the museum grounds often to practice horseback riding and learn how to care for the animals.

Michele was never much into the horses, but she enjoyed the serenity of the museum grounds. While Ilana rode, Michele would often relax in her car and read. Eventually, she also became involved in volunteering at the museum.

Now Ilana regards the museum as her “home away from home.” She works there as a facility manager and leads trail rides. She credits the close-knit community there with helping her to cope with her devastating loss over the past year.

“They have been my backbone,” she said. “They have been everything to me. I really would not be in a good place if I didn’t have this place. I don’t know where I would be.”

Cheryl Carl, a barn manager who runs the museum’s equestrian program, has known Ilana since she was 10. She’s been one of Ilana’s main sources of support since her mother died and said Ilana always had a quiet resiliency.

“Ever since she was little, she would never give up,” Carl said. “If she had a goal, she would always work toward it, even if she had a rough time. She always had a positive attitude. Whenever something would knock her down, she would pick herself up and move forward. She didn’t get lost in the failure or the sadness.

“She fights.”

Ilana was away from home at work the night of Michele Shimmel’s stabbing. By the time she got off, her life had been changed forever.

Ilana said Carl called her in hysterics after reading news reports that something terrible had happened at the Shimmels’ home. It wasn’t until after Ilana made it home that deputies told her that her mother had been killed.

Nathaniel Shimmel has been charged with first-degree murder and is awaiting trial. He has remained in custody at the Flagler County jail without bail since he was arrested early the morning after his alleged attack on his mother. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty against him for the capital felony, a State Attorneys Office spokesman said Wednesday.

Nathaniel Shimmel made his sixth appearance in court last week and a judge scheduled his next court appearance for Oct. 9. His attorneys have entered a plea of not guilty.

Ilana has yet to visit her older brother in jail, admitting she doesn’t know what she would say to him. She said Nathaniel loved their mother but struggled with mental illnesss, including mild autism, from a very young age. She thinks that may have played a role in the fatal attack.

“I’ve been through what nobody should have to go through,” Ilana said. “It’s just a horrible thing to happen. But you can either look at it two ways: You can be stuck and just replay that day over and over and over, never really getting past it, and think that your world is gone. Or you can live for that person and move on and move up every single day.

“And that’s what I’m doing. Every single day I get better.”

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Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com

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