A Portland man and his girlfriend were homeless for at least five months before his arrest in her death this week, a family friend said Friday.

Nicholas R. Estrada called police Wednesday to say Elyesicia Payton had disappeared from their campsite overnight at Kelley Point Park on the banks of the Willamette River. Divers found Payton’s body in the river Thursday morning.

The couple, both 22, had been living in a room at a North Portland home for about a year before moving out in October when they could no longer afford the rent, said homeowner Debbie Nye. Payton had lost her job as a gas attendant at a nearby gas station.

Estrada and Payton showed no outward signs of problems, Nye said.

“It’s surreal,” she said. “They were both so quiet and they seemed happy. I just can’t believe something like that happened.”

Estrada appeared Friday in Multnomah County Circuit Court on a murder accusation. He is scheduled to appear in court again on March 2 for a preliminary hearing.

Several of Payton’s relatives attended the court appearance and were visibly upset after the arraignment. One woman, overcome with grief, wailed outside the courtroom. 

“We all found out last night,” said the victim’s father, Ayric Payton, with tears in his eyes. “She was my daughter. I don’t think I can talk right now.”

Other relatives and supporters declined to comment.

It’s not clear how long Payton was in the water. An autopsy found she died of blunt force trauma and drowning. Police arrested Estrada Thursday evening.

Estrada told investigators that he and Payton had been together for 3 ½ years, court documents say.

The couple regularly read the Bible together and appeared to be inseparable, Estrada’s family friends said Friday. Payton was upbeat and liked to sing, they said. Estrada was more reserved and liked dogs and cats.

Estrada attended Open Meadows Alternative School in North Portland, but dropped out during his senior year in 2012, one friend said.

Estrada has a brother who lives in Scappoose and is apparently estranged from his mother, Nye said.

“If he did this, I just couldn’t imagine why he would,” she said.

— Everton Bailey Jr.

503-221-8343; @EvertonBailey

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