Vermont school to honor slain St. Johnsbury teacher 1 year later
ST. JOHNSBURY -- Nearly a year after a Vermont community was shaken by the grisly discovery that a popular young teacher had been lured from her home and killed, Melissa Jenkins’ legacy lives on in memorials and in her family, students, friends and neighbors.
On Saturday, the community will gather at St. Johnsbury Academy, a prep school where she worked as a science teacher, to honor her life and celebrate her message "to love those the most who need it the most." The day before, a move is on to have students and alumni as far away as California to wear pink -- Jenkins’ favorite color -- and the class of 2012 will decorate the town in that color.
Family members and students planned to speak at the ceremony in an effort to promote Jenkins’ message keep the focus off the crime, said Tammi Cady, the school’s director of development. Relatives "just want to celebrate her and what she stood for," she said.
The school has set up a memorial garden and a Jenkins Citizenship Prize awarded annually to a graduating senior who is kind, hardworking, and always willing to help, as Jenkins was.
The bond she had with the school is a sign of how much she was loved, said Marty Beattie, of Danville, who was Jenkins’ uncle.
"She obviously touched all the kids’ lives and faculty’s lives," he said.
Around the tightknit community of Danville, where Jenkins grew up and worked at The Creamery Restaurant, people are still grieving and can’t fathom the crime.
"We’re just kind of resided to the fact that it was a horrible thing and we’re just dealing with it on a personal level, all of us," Beattie said of the family.
The 33-year-old Jenkins, a single mother, was reported missing on March 25, 2012, after her vehicle was found idling on her rural road with her 2-year-old son inside. The next day, her nude, strangled and beaten body was found dumped in the Connecticut River in a remote spot, chilling the community where violent crime had been rare. A man who had snowplowed her driveway and his wife were arrested in the killing.
Allen and Patricia Prue of Waterford are accused of luring her out of her house with a ruse about a broken-down car, beating and strangling her. Allen Prue, 31, of Waterford, told police that he was riding around in his car with his wife when he got the idea that he wanted "to get a girl." He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, and is being held pending trial, likely in October. Patricia Prue, 34, pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated murder, accusing her of killing Jenkins during a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Her lawyer has an August deadline to be prepared for trial.
A student at St. Johnsbury Academy who knew Jenkins and her family was so shaken up by the crime that she was determined to do something. She and her mother have set up the Melissa Jenkins Walk for Women, a network of trails and a wood-fired sauna on about 100 acres of their land in West Danville for women to walk, hike, snowshoe and cross-country ski and feel safe. They plan to add a memorial garden in honor of Jenkins near a pond in the woods, said Cheryl McQueeney.
Family and men accompanied by women are welcome, she said.
But the focus is on women: "A place where women can leave their kids with their husbands and come for an hour or two and just have fun, and laugh and feel safe," she said.
The trails were a wonderful idea, said Beattie.
"Melissa was all about happy things," he said.
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