GLOUCESTER CITY, N.J. - When Jasmine Karo didn't have a dress to wear to the prom, someone found one for her. When she needed a place to stay after her father threw her out of the house, a neighbor took her in. In a small town, people take care of their own.
"This community is known for helping the underdog," said Joe Gorman, a school counselor here. "If you're down on your luck, people will come through for you."
It's no different now, even after Karo, 18, was charged with murdering her father.
Gloucester City has circled its wagons around Karo, who stabbed her father, Alan, one night last month after years in which he reportedly abused her and her mother. A state assemblyman posted bail to help get her out of jail, students at the high school held a raffle to raise money for her and the overwhelming sentiment in town is that she should not be charged with any crime.
Prosecutors are expected to present the result of their investigation to a grand jury in several months, and it will decide whether Jasmine Karo will be indicted and tried on murder charges.
That this town of 11,500 would rally around a young woman who has admitted to a killing should be surprising, but neighbors say the only surprising thing is that it was the father rather than the daughter that turned up dead in the little house by the railroad tracks.
Jasmine's parents, Alan Karo and his common-law wife, Margie Smiling, were known heavy drinkers. Fights would ensue, punches would be thrown and the next day neighbors would see Smiling and sometimes Jasmine Karo with bruises. Friends tried to help by calling the police and social services and offering to take the women in to get them away from Alan Karo, but the family stuck together.
"The police would come, and Margie would come out and say everything's all right," said Flo Brophy, who lives across the street and whose home was a frequent refuge for Jasmine Karo. "[Social services] would come out, and Alan would have everyone lie and say there's nothing wrong."
The night of May 6 was no different from many in what neighbors describe as a chaotic household. Investigators say this is what they've been told: Alan Karo had been arguing with Jasmine over taking the phone to her basement bedroom to await a call from her boyfriend, then got into a fight with Smiling in the kitchen. Their daughter threatened to call police, and Alan Karo attacked her and put her in a headlock. Smiling and a friend separated them, and Jasmine grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed her father in the upper back.
Smiling's friend has said that she put a Band-Aid on the wound and didn't think it looked serious, so she heeded Alan Karo's pleas not to call police. But Karo later collapsed and died, and his daughter, who had gone to Brophy's home, was arrested.
The arrest put a public spotlight on a sadly dysfunctional home in which Jasmine Karo, friends say, served as the adult. She was the only one bringing in a regular paycheck, even though she was in high school, and looked out not just for her younger sister, Priscilla, 12, but also her parents.
"She sees herself as the one who ran the house," said Gorman, who had been Jasmine's guidance counselor in seventh grade and continues to be a confidant. "Even now, she still is trying to be the parent of the household."
Gorman said Jasmine transferred from Gloucester City's high school this year to attend an alternative school that allows her to work 6 1/2 hours a day at a computer company and attend classes in the afternoon. She is on track to graduate with her class this month, but will not participate in the ceremonies for fear of attracting a "media onslaught" much like the one that swarmed over the town after the killing, he said.
Shortly after he met Jasmine, Gorman said, he heard that her mother had been seen with a series of black eyes. He wrote Jasmine a note saying that if she wanted to talk, she could trust him. Jasmine accepted the offer and said her father would beat her mother when he was drunk, and would attack her as well when she intervened, Gorman said.
Gorman said he reported the violence to the Division of Youth and Family Services, but Jasmine never wanted to leave the household.
"She felt if she wasn't there to intervene, her mother would come to more serious abuse," Gorman said. "And if she left the house, her sister would have to be the intermediary, and she didn't want that to happen."
Gorman gave the family clothes and a computer he no longer used and tried to help Jasmine in other ways. He said what he has done is not unusual in a town where many families have struggled economically and otherwise since the paper mills and other factories in this once thriving industrial town closed.
"It's typical in this high school for faculty members to take an interest in the personal lives of the students," he said. "Especially someone like Jasmine, who is very sweet-natured, intelligent and a good-hearted person."
Others similarly sought to help the family.