'They loved this girl,' but her pain overwhelmed her

Dan Rodricks

January 08, 1992|By Dan Rodricks

You've got to remember, they kept saying, this was someone special. Jenniffer Schofield was a special girl. She lived not even 16 years, and spent most of the last two in the shadows of personal torment, yet she managed to brighten all the lives around her. In the end, the pain she had hidden for so long -- the pain she had refused to make a burden on her family -- overwhelmed her, and Jenniffer Schofield took her own life.

There might have been 1,000 people at two nights of wake at Dabrowski's; some of them stood 45 minutes in a line that reached to East Baltimore Street. And, of course, St. Elizabeth's, the stone church across from Patterson Park, was packed for the funeral. Not even the vicious storm that came through here Saturday morning and shook the windows of the old church kept the mourners away. The priest who celebrated mass never saw anything like it. The cops in the street said only funeral processionsfor other cops were as large as the one that took Jenniffer Schofield to her grave.

They came from all over -- men, women, lots of boys and girls, classmates from the Institute of Notre Dame, friends from Catholic High and Patterson High and the old parochial school at St. Elizabeth's. They cried and they hugged each other, and some buried their faces in the soft shoulders of friends.

"They loved this girl," Jenniffer's uncle, John Wehner, said. "People say today's kids don't care, that they don't feel. They do. I know they do. I've seen it. It's been proven to me."

If the dimension of grief can be used as evidence, then Jenniffer Schofield must have been just as special as her relatives say. She must have been just as they described -- charming, gregarious, funny, outgoing, athletic, energetic, bright, selfless and loving. The kind of girl who, playing soccer and having an open shot at goal, passed the ball to a smaller, younger girl so she could have the thrill of the score.

That's what makes this story so heart-breaking. But that's why, her family insists, the story must be told. This life will not be wasted if others learn from it.

Jenniffer Schofield was once a happy little girl from East Baltimore, the pride of loving parents -- a father who's a sheet-metal mechanic at the Bethlehem Steel shipyard, and a mother who works as a surgical technician at Mercy Medical Center. There's also an older brother she loved and kidded a lot.

Yesterday, the three of them, along with a couple of good uncles, gathered around the kitchen table of an East Baltimore rowhouse and tried to put the pieces together. It took a long time for Sam and Janice Schofield to tell their daughter's story, for there were many long pauses in which they could not find words, in which they were rendered numb by the unbearable loss of a daughter they thought they had found again.

There was a time, starting about two years ago, when the Schofields thought they were going to lose Jenniffer.

"We went down a long, rough road with her," Janice Schofield said.

Jenniffer was traumatized at 13 by a sexual assault that, her parents allege, left her scarred for life. It changed her almost instantly. There was a long period of anger and depression and erratic behavior. She ran away from home. She started drinking booze.

But her parents got Jenniffer into therapy. She spent three months in a psychiatric hospital. Slowly, she pulled herself out of the shadows and got back into the healthy pace of life. She returned to the Institute of Notre Dame and excelled in class. By last fall, her parents felt they had found their daughter again -- the Jenniffer who had laughed and brightened their days.

"We have our daughter back," Sam told Janice on New Year's Eve. And that was a lot to be grateful for. Nineteen-ninety-one turned out a lot better than 1990. The Schofields embraced and kissed. They were happy. They believed their daughter was happy.

"Jen had us all convinced that she was OK again," Janice Schofield said. "We were out for New Year's Eve. We were at my husband's brother's house. Jen was home and she called us at the party. She told me she loved me." And she told her father she loved him.

But by the time the Schofields returned to their house on East Monument Street, Jenniffer had written an entry in her diary, and she had left the diary where her mother could find it. "I knew something was wrong right then," Janice Schofield said. "What teen-age girl leaves her diary where her mother can find it?"

As her husband climbed the stairs, Janice Schofield stood and read her daughter's words -- "Dear Mom and Dad, I love you" -- and halfway through the note, she realized what it was.

"Halfway through," she said, "I realized it was a good-bye letter. We found her in my bedroom." She was dead from a gunshot wound.

"The note said, 'I can't stop the pain in my heart,'" Janice Schofield said at the kitchen table in her mother's home on Jefferson Street yesterday afternoon. The Schofields have been unable to return to their home on Monument Street since Jennifer's death.

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