The death of a local butterfly keeper has shaken up the quiet city of Solana Beach.
Tom Merriman's body was found on New Year's Day in a Solana Beach home in the 100 block of Nardo Avenue. According to authorities, the killing had taken place the day before, on New Year's Eve. Police arrested his stepdaughter Jade Sasha Janks, 37, who was at the home at the time, charging her with his murder.
“Tom was just an all-around good guy,” said Pat Flanagan, a friend and business partner of Merriman, who was 64. “He loved being outdoors. He was very handy. He cared and he really gave a lot to the community.”
Flanagan and Merriman met in 2011 when they were both leasing nursery space on a property in Vista. Flanagan said they soon decided to combine businesses. At first, they were selling palm trees, then one day they found themselves buying a vivarium, an enclosed area for raising animals or growing plants in Encinitas. Together, they opened Butterfly Farms, a nonprofit organization focused on the conservation and study of native butterflies, in the spring of 2013.
Since then, Flanagan said Merriman became known and loved in the community for his kindness and knowledge about butterflies. That same community is now baffled by the news of his killing, and who investigators believe to be his killer.
“It’s a shock,” said Flanagan. “I think about it every day. Walking around here [at the Butterfly Farm,] there are memories of Tom and his presence is here always."
“Tom was a really private guy,” Flanagan said. “He wasn’t on Facebook or social media, and he didn't really talk much about his family.”
Merriman separated from Janks' mother many years ago, Flanagan said. In fact, in the 10 years they worked together, Flanagan only remembers seeing Janks twice.
Flanagan said he doesn't know what kind of relationship Merriman had with his stepdaughter. The last time Flanagan heard from her was about a month ago, when she called the shop to ask about Merriman, something Flanagan recalled thinking was odd.
“At the end of the day, nothing is going to bring Tom back,” Flanagan said. “It doesn't matter. I try not to focus on it."
A makeshift memorial now stands at Butterfly Farms, where Flanagan plans to honor and remember his beloved friend.
Butterfly Farms issued a statement last week regarding Merriman's death: "Our hearts remain, and will remain, broken by the loss of Tom. We will do our best to honor him by sharing beauty in his memory."
"Honestly, we are at a loss for words still on how to move forward here," the statement continued. "We want to continue to share what's going on at the farm in honor and remembrance of our co-founder Tom and all of the dedication he has poured into our farm and butterflies. Tom will forever remain in our hearts and our farm. Thank you again for your support."
Janks pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a murder charge. She is being held without bail but is due back in court on Jan. 27 for a bail hearing.