Updated: Nov 4, 2022
Her name was Ellen Clarke. Ellen was a Child and Youth Studies student of mine at OSU’s Marion Campus, and she was also the niece of one of my colleagues. Ellen was a good student, a good teacher, and, an even rarer find, a really good person. I taught her in several courses, from her first field experience to professional courses, to her senior internship. Ellen’s interest and enthusiasm were infectious, making her well-respected by her peers and a joy to have in class. It was clear that she loved children and was dedicated to enhancing their knowledge and improving their lives.
For her senior internship, Ellen volunteered at COSI, working with a team that often hosted school and community groups who visited the museum. She worked very hard, conducting experiments and activities to engage children in science and to help them discover the wonders of the natural world. Ellen loved her work and did such an outstanding job that, after only a few months, COSI hired her to manage their summer camp. Ellen shared this news with me when my wife and I took our children to visit her at the museum one afternoon. I made a note of her start date and texted her a good luck message that morning.
Ellen never received my text. The weekend before the camp started, in June of 2015, she was murdered by her boyfriend of two and a half years. After a late-night argument at her apartment near OSU’s Columbus campus, he strangled and stabbed Ellen to death. Ellen's murderer then drove to his parents' home and phoned in his confession to police.
Ellen was only 24.
Though Ellen wasn’t the first student that I’d lost to violence, the news of her murder stunned me. I couldn’t stop thinking of her last few terrifying minutes, fighting for her life, and then feeling it drain out of her as she lay alone on the floor of her apartment. I remember wishing that somebody, a neighbor or a group of friends passing by on the street, had heard the argument, or the struggle, and called for help. Maybe Ellen would still be alive, I thought.
In some ways it made sense that someone as sweet and kind as Ellen was in a relationship with someone so troubled and violent. Ellen was the person with the big heart, caring for children who were different, or difficult, or angry. We teach our children to be this way, but the truth is that people with big hearts are often fooled or taken advantage of by hustlers, predators, or souls so damaged that they can’t be repaired.
October is both Domestic Violence Awareness Month and National Crime Prevention Month. It is a time when we should remind ourselves that we are our siblings’ keepers . . . that we need to look out for each other so that crime and violence doesn’t damage more of our neighbors and fellow citizens. Sometimes this involves making difficult decisions at difficult times. In the past several years, there have certainly been some very high-profile instances of overzealousness by citizens or police or vigilantes that resulted in mistreatment, tragedy, and even murder. Of course we don’t want a few people’s paranoia or prejudice to be buoyed or justified under the guise of civic duty.
However, we want to watch out for each other: co-workers trying to cover up bruises; friends who seem angry or are so stressed out that they can’t relax; tenants in adjacent apartments from which we hear yelling, crashing, or thudding; elderly people living alone; neighbors away on vacation. Minding our business is warranted in many areas of our lives, but definitely not all.
You can click this link to connect with the National Domestic Abuse Hotline, the number for which is 800-799-SAFE (7233).