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Remembering Jenn

  • BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Mary and Robert Brown hold a photo of their daughter Jennifer with two Al Wakra students. The Browns lost their daughter one year ago when she was murdered while living and teaching in Qatar.
    BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS Mary and Robert Brown hold a photo of their daughter Jennifer with two Al Wakra students. The Browns lost their daughter one year ago when she was murdered while living and teaching in Qatar.
Published November 14. 2013 05:00PM

Jennifer Brown always knew she wanted to make a difference in children's lives.

But what was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime for the 40-year-old Jim Thorpe woman, quickly turned into her parents' worst nightmare.

Robert and Mary Brown will always remember Nov. 14, 2012 as the day their lives shattered. It was the day their vibrant, caring daughter had been murdered in Qatar, where she traveled two months earlier to teach preschool.

"I knew something happened when the phone rang and the person said it was the school," Mary said through sobs as she recalled that fateful phone call the morning of Nov. 15. "I asked if she was all right and then I got Bob. I never thought this would happen with her going over there."

"At first I was more at ease because they said when they went into her apartment she wasn't breathing," Robert said, choking back tears as he recalled that his daughter had been sick with a cold when she left. "I thought maybe it was natural causes; then they told us a weapon was involved.

"At that moment, I felt lost because we were so far away from Jenn."

Now, as today marks the one-year anniversary of Jenn's death, the Jim Thorpe family is moving forward, remembering their daughter, and still wondering what went terribly wrong.

The simple joys in life

Jenn was born on Sept. 30, 1972, and was the oldest of the Browns' three daughters.

Growing up, she was quiet and reserved, her parents recalled.

She enjoyed spending time with her grandparents, loved coloring and reading and dreamed of one day becoming a teacher.

"She was a normal kid," Robert said.

Jenn would spend time with her father, watching the New York Yankees and New York Giants. She also followed tennis matches, ice skating and gymnastics.

Mary reminisced about Jenn watching Mary Lou Retton capture a 1984 Olympic gold medal in the gymnastic individual all-around competition.

"She recorded it and watched it over and over," Mary said.

She also baby sat for a number of families and enjoyed teaching the children how to read.

Jenn graduated from Jim Thorpe Area High School in 1990 and went on to earn her teaching degree from Kutztown University and the American University in Washington D.C.

As the years went by, Jenn traveled the country with friends; served as a nanny and later as a teacher in the Jim Thorpe Area School District and St. Joseph Regional Academy; and enjoyed being an aunt to her sisters' children.

Robert said that she loved to bake cornbread with her nieces and take them and her nephews, as well as the neighbors' children, to see and feed the horses at the end of their road.

"Every dad would be happy to have a good girl like her," he said, wiping away tears as he showed a valentine he received from Jenn 35 years ago. "Jenn had a bright light in her eyes. She was full of life."

A whole new world

Mary and Robert learned of their daughter's plans to teach abroad only days before she was scheduled to leave last September.

Their middle daughter Tricia said that her sister felt that this job was the perfect opportunity for her.

"We thought it was dangerous, but she had to do it," Tricia said. "She thought it would be OK."

But her parents had reservations about their daughter traveling across the world to unfamiliar territory.

"I didn't want her to go," Mary said as she looked over one of the last photographs taken of Jennifer. "I asked her 'Jennifer, what are you thinking?' But she went to this job fair (in Philadelphia) and they told her it was beautiful over there (in Qatar) and rich in oil, and that she would like it."

"She did. She loved it there," Robert added. "She finally found happiness.

"The last thing she said to me was 'Dad I'll see you at Christmas,'" he said, his voice cracking as he looked through past school photos. "Those were the last words she ever said to me."

Jenn was teaching at the Al Wakra Campus of the English Modern School at the time of her death.

The Browns said that Jennifer had a kind heart and saw the good in everyone.

Her murderer, a Kenyan security guard who has never been named by authorities, even helped her after she moved in, hanging photos and helping her around her apartment.

School officials have voiced their sadness over Jennifer's murder, and the superintendent of the school, Jean Claude Chalouhi, feels he is partially responsible for her death because he changed his mind about firing the guard, Robert stated.

"The school wanted to get rid of this guy (the security guard) before all this happened, but some of the teachers circulated a petition to keep him," Mary said, adding that they never found out why the school wanted to fire the guard.

A light goes out

For reasons that have never been released to the media or the Brown family, the security guard entered Jenn's apartment sometime between Nov. 13 and 14, 2012, killed her and took money.

The guard was arrested shortly after Jennifer's body was discovered and confessed to the killing. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

"We don't care what happens to him," Robert said. "What good does it do? What does it matter now? It won't bring Jenn back."

"Why did he do it?" Tricia asked. "She wouldn't hurt a fly."

A trial date is set for Nov. 17, but, according to a source in Qatar, delays have continually pushed back the trial over the last few months.

Since Jenn's murder, not many details have surfaced.

According to the Browns, Qatar officials, as well as U.S. Embassy officials, remained tight-lipped about the investigation.

The family even had to fight to get their daughter's body returned to the states.

They received empty promises from the embassy, who said they would embalm Jenn and send her home. But the days ticked by and Jennifer remained a half a world away.

It wasn't until the grieving family hired a lawyer from Greece that movement on her return began to happen.

"We had to pay someone to go over there and question them on why they weren't sending her home," Tricia said. "They weren't cooperating. They just let her sit there. It was awful."

The condition that Jennifer returned home in, two weeks after her murder, still makes the family upset.

"I felt terrible," Mary said through tears. "We didn't even get to view her one last time because they didn't embalm her. You should have seen the box they sent her home in."

"When somebody is sick with something like cancer you have time to say goodbye," Robert added. "We didn't get that. We didn't get to see our daughter to say goodbye."

Life after death

Following Jenn's burial, the Browns' home felt empty.

Thoughts about their daughter, who lived with Robert and Mary, consumed the family as they tried to resume a normal lifestyle, but even after a year, the sadness remains.

"I think of her at night a lot and then I start crying," Mary said as she looked through old pictures.

"You go to bed thinking about her and you wake up thinking about her," Robert added. "I used to lay in bed every night thinking about what we will do for Jennifer when we're not here. Every parent thinks about what will happen to their children when they (the parents) are not around. I thought about it every night."

The family attends church and Mary prays often to give her strength to carry on. Prayer helps a little for Mary, but not her husband.

"It doesn't help," he said. "I prayed like three times a day to keep her safe over there and look what happened."

They are thankful for their nine grandchildren, who have helped keep their minds off this tremendous loss.

Jenn's nieces and nephews say they are reaching for the sky to touch Jenny when they are playing on the swings, Tricia explained.

Her cat, Nicky, also still sits at her bedroom door, looking and crying for his long lost companion.

"Be good to your kids because you never know if you're going to get that phone call," Robert said. "I never thought it would happen to us."

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