Earlier this week a jury convicted Alan Prue of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and aggravated kidnapping, finding him guilty of kidnapping and killing Melissa Jenkins. This news, no doubt, hit us in different ways. Some felt a sense of relief that one part of our open wound was partially closed and a sense of gratitude to the law enforcement officers and state attorneys that continue to work hard for justice. Some felt a sense of closure that one perpetrator of this horrible crime had been brought to justice, a sense of gratitude that the jury got it right and our justice system worked. To some, the verdict was a reminder of just how chilling and horrific the crime was and how much we miss Melissa. I felt all of these things.

For others, it was a glimpse into a past that they were not a part of, the most recent chapter in a story that has changed this community forever.

I have received lots of inquiries from the media about this. Some just wanted to know what I thought about the verdict, others wanted to know how our school community was reacting. I think you get a sense of my response above.

However, one request seemed out of place.  One reporter wanted to know how Melissa’s death has changed how people view the Northeast Kingdom. I haven’t answered him yet, but here is what I plan to say:

It’s all about your focus and what you care about. If you focus on the crime and care about the grisly details, or if you focus on the fact that such an unthinkable crime happened here and care most of all about your personal safety, this murder could change the way you see this beautiful part of the world. You could see it as a place with murderous people who threaten your well-being.

However, if you focus on the messages surrounding this community’s grief—love wins and love those the most who need it the most—or if you care about loving your neighbor, as Melissa did—this murder could also change the way you see this part of the world. You might find it even more beautiful than before. That’s what we chose to do 31 months ago. Knowing we probably would never completely be at peace, we chose to love. In so doing, we helped make this place more beautiful, and we helped heal each other. That’s what I saw yesterday as I watched reactions to the verdict: love amidst grief, healing amidst pain.

Calvin Coolidge said the thing he loved most about Vermont was “her indomitable people” whom he called “a race of pioneers who almost impoverished themselves for love of others.”  For those of you who are new to Vermont or new to this community, this too is what I love most and what I would focus on most if I were to say how this murder has changed the way people view this part of the world.

I continue to get emails from people wishing us peace, healing, relief, and closure. Most of the senders realize that these good wishes will never completely come true. But now, on a day when we can celebrate justice, I want us to also celebrate love and to continue to love Melissa’s friends and family, especially those in our midst, and to carry out the message that has made this, for me, one of the most beautiful places on earth.

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