Who's afraid of Jamie Schoonover?

Lost in the news that a teen-age girl is a witch was the fact that the witch is just a teen-age girl.

November 14, 1998|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN STAFF

Jamie Schoonover is on her way to dinner. As she strolls through Fells Point toward Bertha's, men and women stare audaciously.

"I'm just a poor Goth," says Jamie, all dressed in a wardrobe straight from "The Addams Family." Jamie, a 15-year-old with marbled blue eyes, black fingernail polish and a head shaved clean on the right side, takes the stares in stride.

"Oh, I'm used to people being scared of me for the way I look," says Jamie, a freshman at Southwestern High School in Baltimore.

Days before, another ninth-grader at Southwestern certainly seemed scared of her. Head down, voice barely audible, her neck ringed with a silver cross, Jennifer Rassen was saying she couldn't get her voice out of her head -- the witch's voice. The witch being Jamie Schoonover.

Jamie, as the newspaper and TV stations headlined, had been suspended for one day after the school had accused her of "casting a spell" on Jennifer. But after meeting with both girls' parents, school officials had downgraded the incident to a simple misunderstanding. Jamie admitted being a witch, but denied any spell-casting. A school transfer was discussed.

"Mostly, it was matter of the fear of the unknown," explained Jamie's mother, Colleen Harper, also a practicing witch.

These days at Southwestern, the subject of witchcraft seems closed. Because of her parents' wishes, Jamie still attends Southwestern. "Everything is going very smoothly. We haven't had any more incidents," says Earl Lee, principal of the Alpha Academy, which constitutes Southwestern's ninth grade.

Really, the whole hex mess was just a sideshow, the story du jour. What remains is a 15-year-old high school freshman who reluctantly found herself the center of attention, who finds herself still dealing with issues beyond a frightful misunderstanding at school. Jamie Schoonover struggles with school work because of dyslexia. She lives in a home missing such bare necessities as a shower and bed. And she lives with her divorced father, a person undergoing a change not many adults can fully understand.

"Someday, I'm going to publish my life story," Jamie says. "It will be unbelievable."

But it wouldn't be a story about a good witch or a bad witch. No, Jamie's life story is about something much scarier. It's about being a teen-ager.

"I have a daughter," says Colleen Harper, "who doesn't clean up."

On a lousy-gray afternoon in late October, Jamie's mother answers the door to her unmarked rowhouse on South Mount Street. Her handshake is firm. The house is full with up-ended boxes of clothes. Tabletops are jammed with electricians' tools, pliers and such. Sheets of drywall are leaned near a broken-down bathroom.

For the discounted rent of $250 a month, it's Harper's job is to repair this place. As of this month, it's her only job. Colleen Noel Harper is 46 and unemployed. She and her daughter live on food stamps and disability checks. They bathe at a friend's house. And until June this year, Harper was legally known as Richard Edwin Schoonover. Harper, who has undergone hormone treatment, is a transsexual.

Until last year, Harper was the husband of Jamie's biological mother, Ellen Montgomery of Baltimore. Jamie Rene Schoonover, their second of three daughters, lives with Harper, who was granted custody in the couple's divorce. Together, Harper and Jamie try to patch together a house and home.

"I give Jamie a lot of freedom," Harper says. "She is being the young lady she wants to be."

In the family room, a fat teddy bear loafs near an altar of sorts fashioned atop the radiator. Here Jamie has lit incense and oil lamp and meditated, says Harper, as the family kitten, Vampire, claws up her shoulder. Marilyn Manson and Christian Death CDs are loose on the floor.

Harper confesses admiration for another scary musician -- James Taylor.

The shrine, Harper says, is part of practicing Wicca. A recognized religion in this country, it reportedly has as many as 300,000 believers.

But the meditating ("casting a circle on hallowed ground and raising power internally"), a kitty named Vampire and Marilyn Manson songs are as sinister as life gets around here, Harper says.

"My daughter," she says, "is not a Satanist."

No, Jamie is more into the Goth scene. Goth as in Gothic: teen-agers dressing up in the medieval, moody spirit of Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles." Dark is it. Night is magic. Goth Night at the Orpheus club on Pratt Street and hanging out at Towson Commons or on the square at Fells Point -- one of Jamie's haunts.

"Listen, I was a hippie in the '60s. Goth is the same kind of thing," says friend Karen Hudnet. "It's about trying all different kinds of things. It's about finding yourself."

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