Remembering Jenny Paulson

One of my friends from college was shot and killed by a fellow grad who had become obsessed with her. (UPDATE: I learned later I have a personal connection to the suspect – see below.) It is proof that bad things happen to good people. I have trouble thinking of a better person than Jennifer Paulson, and I’ll tell you why.

Jenny PaulsonJenny was a friend of a guy on my dorm floor when we were freshmen at Seattle Pacific University in 1998. She came by to visit and I was immediately taken with her – she was pretty, goofy and down to earth. I cajoled my way into her life by offering to help with her laundry and she obliged. She lived in the dorm at the top of the hill, and mine was at the bottom. I ended up spending a fair bit of time up there with Jenny and her punky roommate (think Pink), two cultural opposites who meshed perfectly.

She worked in the cafeteria, hair pushed up, baggy clothes and a giant grin on her face when she saw me coming. “Gr-e-g!” she would yell in three syllables, take a break and come out to dine with me. Jenny had the most revolting tastes I had ever seen, dipping pizza in ranch dressing and enjoying the strained look on my face. She insisted it was delicious.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Jenny cared for the least of these, an admonition from Jesus that many of us at a Christian university struggled to apply. She was a special-education major from Tacoma, a diverse city with gang problems, and befriended not only a wide variety of students, but also her fellow cafeteria workers who weren’t students, largely low-income, immigrants with mixed English skills, and dropouts – folks the rest of us had nothing against but no reason to talk to. Jenny stayed friends with one our age who left the job and introduced us when he came back to visit – I think she had a small crush of the I-can-save-him variety.

The man alleged to have killed Jenny as she entered her school, Jed Waits, also worked with her in the cafeteria all those years ago. I don’t recognize his face but his name is vaguely familiar. It’s easy to see why he, and everyone around Jenny, was so drawn to her. Jenny had a painfully big heart and no preconditions for friendship, which I’m sure made her more vulnerable to the advances of troubled men.

Tonight I’ve been talking to college friends who didn’t know her well but say they vividly remember her smile, and searching for any traces of contact, most likely buried in an old e-mail account. Inexplicably we weren’t even Facebook friends – it’s to my discredit that I let our friendship languish after college. Jenny’s death has led me to resolve to better keep in touch with those old friends, one with whom I’ve already scheduled a get-together for my next visit this spring.

I hope this leads you, too, to reflect on the people who have made a difference in your life, and make sure they know it, before it’s too late.

UPDATE: Another friend recognized the suspect’s name. We’re pretty sure he served as the illustrator for an alternative paper we started at SPU. He went by the moniker “Kinlan” in our staff box, but I never met him or learned his full name – he sent in his illustrations and asked for anonymity. Waits was a graphic novelist and his style appears very similar to Kinlan’s. Recalling his self-illustration, I recognize the suspect’s face now. I also learned he was roommates with another mutual friend of Jenny’s. We are learning just how close all our connections were on a small campus. The only good thing is it’s bringing us back together.

  

Author: GREG PIPER

I'm a tech journalist who's making a TV show about a college newspaper.

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15 Comments

  1. I am sorry for your loss Greg. This was a fine elegy you wrote. May Jenny rest in peace and her family and friends, including you, be comforted in every way.

    dr.e

  2. My memory of Jenny is coming back very quick. I also worked with her at Gwinn Commons. She was probably the nicest person I ever met at SPU. Her friends and family will be in my prayers.

  3. I thought this was a political blog? Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?

  4. She was a light to all that knew her. I went to school with her for 6 years and we graduated high school together. I hadn't spoken to her much since then but I miss her terribly now. May her memory be forever a blessing.

  5. How terrible. May she rest in peace, and her killer burn somewhere else.

  6. Nice post, Greg, and sorry for your loss.

    (And to Father Time [neutronic], No, you didn't take the wrong turn. The authors and commenters on TMV are human beings who do have and share their happy stories, but also their sorrows and compassion)

  7. You're a cold-hearted idiot neutronic.

  8. dear commenters: comments have been removed from this post. Thanks.

  9. Greg,

    I am so sorry for your loss, and for the loss of everyone who knew Jenny Paulson. My heart goes out to her family. There is nothing about an act like this that is comprehensible or explicable, but what jumps out at me as particularly ironic (if that's the word; it seems too mild) is that one of the reasons this sick and twisted man became obsessed with Jenny Paulson is because of her warm and loving nature. That's a paradox I cannot understand and that I hardly can bear thinking about.

    Again, much sympathy to you and Jenny's friends and loved ones for this tragedy.

  10. I met Jenny when we both started working at Hunt Middle School in Tacoma about three years ago. She was the sweetest kid, fresh faced and down to earth. She was always positive and friendly. She and I worked across from each other and she would graduate kids out of her class to be in mine. Her true beauty came from within. I had several conversations with her where it was very apparent how passionate she was about helping kids. I often thought that how incongruous it would be to see her involved in a relationship of any kind, but I always hoped she would find that special someone. She had that gift, to be simple and kind and open and honest that makes it so hard to be embroiled in anything more than a deep friendship. That's how irony works I suppose. It is a really tough time for all of us in the education community who are trying to make a difference. She is loved and missed by all of us.

  11. I just stopped by Birney and talked to the kids standing by the memorial across the street. They were all very respectful and honest about how they felt about her. It takes a special person to impress the kids around this neighborhood. Many of these kids have lives that are punctuated by daily crisis and trauma that is often inflicted by adults. One of the kids said that he'll remember Ms. Paulson for helping him with his anger. It was a part of her makeup to allow these kids to feel instantaneously comfortable around her. Her genuine, disarming nature is something many kids don't get from other adults. I asked them if they will miss her. They all said yes.

  12. Hey Greg, this is Fluger. Thanks for writing this. I'm going to her memorial tomorrow. Can't believe this happened. Just a blow to the system.

  13. I'm going too. I don't get how someone could be so warped (understatement) that they would hurt, much less kill, such a wonderful person. I'm just thankful we'll see Jenny again.

  14. Over 2000 people showed up at the service. All the public flags in Tacoma were at half-mast in her honor.

  15. Great Service and Great blog Greg! Still shocked and stunned by this loss and troubled by the theological paradox/quandry I find myself in having known and lived with Jed. She will always hold a special place in my heart. So Sad. =(

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