SPOKANE, Wash. -- Loved ones say the woman found murdered near 2nd and Elm Saturday was a loving mother who was just trying to pick up her children after a visit with their father.
Loved ones have identified the murder victim as Mary Schaffer.
Nathan Beal, 36, was arrested near the scene and is facing a charge of first degree murder. Beal made his firs appearance in court on Monday afternoon.
"Mary was the most beautiful soul," said Megan Priest. "She had the most beautiful heart."
Mary has been dating Megan Priest's brother for about five years now.
Loved ones remember Mary as so incredibly kind, adventurous, and giving. They say her son and daughter were her whole world.
"She fiercely loved her children," Megan said. "She did everything she could to protect them."
The family was preparing to celebrate the couple with a wedding, but now Megan says they're planning a funeral.
"(Nathan Beal) threatened them numerous times," she said. "It was documented in the custody hearing in Okanogan County."
Megan says Mary and her brother were so fearful of Nathan, they went to family court to get permission to leave the state a few years back. She says the custody battle was ugly.
"They finally got clearance to move to Oregon," she said. "The judge mandated the children still spend the summer with (Nathan Beal.)"
A visit that was supposed to end Saturday. Megan says Mary rented a car and drove to Spokane to get her babies, both under the age of 10.
"They met at at public place near a grocery store in broad daylight," Megan said.
But in the end, it wasn't enough to protect Mary.
Megan says she texted family when she arrived in Spokane. She told them she was waiting for Nathan to meet her and would call as soon as she was reunited with the children. As time ticked by with no updates, they grew frantic.
"My brother and I called SPD twice Saturday when we couldn't get a hold of her on her phone," Megan said.
They immediately feared the worst, and by late Saturday afternoon a witness called 911 to say they found a woman dead inside a vehicle. The family believes Mary was executed as she waited to get her kids.
Police write in documents that Mary's brother told detectives, "He and his siblings knew this was coming because Beal has not concealed his hatred of Mary and his plans to shoot her.'"
Investigators state they were told by family that Beal wanted Mary dead because he thought Mary was 'insane' after she suffered a brain injury. Beal also allegedly said he was going to save up to $3,000 to hire someone to murder the mother of his children.
A search of Beal's apartment turned up a handgun. The chamber was empty according to documents, but the magazine 'contained live rounds identical to the shell casings found on the street' near the murder scene.
Police quickly found Nathan Beal near the scene. KHQ was there as officers took him into custody.
The family says while they are grateful for the swift arrest, this is a horrible crime they believe was completely preventable. Megan says the guilt of those left behind has been overwhelming.
"My brother was supposed to be with her and at the last minute he had to stay at work," she said. "But I know, he would have killed them both."
Megan says the couple's children are safe with other loved ones. This is a developing story.