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.