Employee killed at the inn loved to cook, and aspired to own a restaurant

RALEIGH, N. C. – Sara Ellis, a cook, who was killed this week in a North Carolina mountain lodge, loved the making of an omelette and a chocolate cake for friends and often went out of her way to brighten up a weird day, family and friends say.

“She was the kind of person a high-five to a stranger just to make them laugh,” Carrie Ellis said of her younger sister.

Shortly before Sara Ellis, 29, was Tuesday found dead near a trail not far from the Pisgah Inn, she sent her sister a message that she was enjoying the seasonal job as a cook at the lodge along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

“Two days before it happened was the last message that I had. I was checking on her. She said that she did like it there. She was making some friends; it was wonderful,” Carrie Ellis, who’s 31, said in a telephone interview. “It’s kind of creepy now. She said: “This is a safe place.'”

The co-worker accused of killing her 20-year-old Derek Shawn Pendergraft, is held on a second-degree murder charges. His lawyer is not a message looking for comment.

Neither Carrie Ellis nor two friends, who spoke with The Associated Press said that she had said Pendergraft to them. She said that she was making friends in the employee dorm and enjoy her seasonal job which started in May.

A friend who knew that Sara Ellis from growing up in Brevard County, Florida, said Ellis had a close-knit family and a group of friends who enjoyed hanging around the family Ellis house for pool parties and cookouts.

“She used to bake this amazing chocolate cake,” Carlos Vargas said over the phone. “And she was always trying new recipes and always experimenting in the kitchen.”

Her twin sister, Rachel Ellis, said that she was too emotional for a phone interview, but wrote in an e-mail that they will miss a marathon Food Network viewings after that of her sister would “always be inspired to cook.”

“She will always be known as ‘hugger’. She was always just as excited about the opportunity to share the love even a complete stranger,” Rachel wrote. “She also had her quirky moments and a number of quick wit, sure. She was not afraid to share her sense of humor.”

Sara Ellis had spent a large part of her childhood in Melbourne, Florida, area before the family moved elsewhere, including a few years in North Carolina. Happy memories from that time made her feel that the job at Pisgah Inn was a particularly good fit, said friend Nicole de Giovine, who knew Ellis since they were in elementary school. Ellis had been living in Florida for the past ten years.

Ellis was previously employed in the food-industry jobs at a university and a café-restaurant, so she saw the job at the Pisgah Inn as an important step in her career ambition is to own a restaurant one day.

“She talked about her work and how she was learning a lot of new things and how they can apply all the new things in the management of her own place one day,” Giovine said. She said Ellis had an associate’s degree in art and wanted to go back to school to learn restaurant management.

The death has devastated the family.

“We are all just doing the best we can do,” Carrie Ellis said. “You never expect this.”


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