ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. (AP) – A Vermont community and school shaken by the killing of a popular prep school teacher gathered Friday to celebrate her life and gave police investigators a standing ovation for solving the crime.
Many in the crowd of about 2,500 that packed the St. Johnsbury Academy gymnasium and another room wore pink or pink ribbons to honor Melissa Jenkins, who was remembered as a dedicated teacher and loving mother and friend.
Headmaster Thomas Lovett told the crowd to “love those the most that need it the most,” _ Jenkins’ words _ calling it “Melissa’s challenge.”
“Melissa created a sense of family in all that she did,” said Marty Beattie, of Danville, who was formerly married to one of Jenkins’ aunts.
“Melissa’s heart was huge,” he said.
Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama sent his condolences to Jenkins’ family and friends in a campaign stop in Burlington and members of the Vermont House held a moment of silence for Jenkins, also wearing pink ribbons in her memory.
A Waterford couple has been charged with luring Jenkins from her home with a ruse about a broken down car, then killing her and dumping her body into the Connecticut River. Her idling vehicle was found Sunday on a remote road near her home, with her 2-year-old son asleep inside.
Jenkins’ cousin, Meredith Berry, told the crowd that “these sick individuals” were on a “devilish” mission that night. She said tearfully she has lost her best friend, who was more like a sister than a cousin, and urged the crowd to honor Jenkins for her accomplishments as a coach, an educator and friend.
A trust fund has been set up at Passumpsic Savings Bank for Jenkins’ son, who apparently witnessed part of the attack, according to police.
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