When Rachelle Bergeron married her husband in a barefoot beach ceremony on the tiny South Pacific island of Yap last year, her caseload in the attorney general’s office was so overwhelming that the newlyweds never had time to go on a honeymoon.
“We never had any real privacy on Yap or even a honeymoon,” said Simon Hammerling, a German-born pilot who became a widower when Bergeron, 33, was shot dead outside their island home last month when she returned from an evening jog.
Hammerling, who has lived on Yap for 15 years, spoke to The Post from Wisconsin where he and Bergeron’s family have organized a memorial service before her burial today.
Hammerling, now 36, met Bergeron on Yap in September 2015, a month after she moved to the island to become the assistant attorney general. At the time, Bergeron was at the harbor advocating for the rights of a group of migrants who had washed up on the island’s shores after their boat capsized.
Before moving to the island of 11,000 people, Bergeron, a crusader against child sex trafficking, had lived in South Africa, worked as a legal intern in Beijing and at the United Nations before going to India to work on human trafficking.
“I remember thinking she was cute, but someone had told me she was married,” said Hammerling of the long-haired brunette he saw trying to help impoverished migrants from Nepal at the harbor.
Hammerling grew up in Stuttgart, Germany, and moved to the island in 2002 to train as an airplane mechanic for Pacific Mission Aviation, an evangelical non-profit. He later trained in Oregon where he got his pilot’s license, and returned to the island in 2015. After a few months, when he realized that Bergeron was in fact single, he asked her out on a date, he said.
The couple married last year, and were planning to move to Cheyenne, Wyoming, in December where Bergeron was to begin work at the attorney general’s office, said Hammerling.
“We were really looking forward to being in America, trying different food and meeting new people,” he told The Post.
They also planned to take in a young girl they had found sleeping on their doorstep, after the child had been abandoned by her family.
“We really felt like God had put her there and into our lives and we just loved her,” Hammerling said.
The girl, Deesha, now 12, will remain with Bergeron’s family in Wisconsin, he said.
Bergeron was well-liked on the island, Hammerling told The Post. She often cooked meals and dropped them off at people’s homes, and did whatever she could to help the community, he said.
But she had also received threats related to her work, which she refused to speak about, and often slept with a machete under her pillow.
“Rachelle always wanted to do the right thing,” he said. “It was in her heart. If she had known she was going to die she would have continued to do the right thing anyway. She was very brave and very strong.”
After the memorial service, Hammerling, a German citizen, doesn’t know what he will do. He does not have a visa to stay in the United States and is reluctant to return to Yap.
“I have to figure out what I want to do now that she is no longer with me,” Hammerling told The Post. “I’m struggling with her death right now. I know it’s part of a bigger picture, but it really hurts right now.
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