NEWS- In mourning: Community remembers Jayne McGowan

Flowers, a photo and tissues sat atop a piano inside the church.

A little over a week after the slaying of 26-year-old Jayne McGowan in her home on St. Clair Avenue, Charlottesvillians paid tribute to her at two events, one for those who knew and loved her, and one for people who'd never met her but were affected by her death nonetheless.

On Friday evening, November 16, from 6 to 6:30, McGowan's former neighbors on St. Clair Avenue, Hazel Street, and Locust Avenue gathered in a front yard around a campfire and introduced themselves to each other. The gathering in the wake of the crime was a way for neighbors to deal with their fear without retreating further into their own homes, they explained.

McGowan was found dead on her couch, shot at least once in the head, on Friday afternoon, November 9. On Monday, November 12, police arrested two local men, 18-year-old Michael Stuart Pritchett and 22-year-old William Douglas Gentry Jr. Both have been charged with capital murder in McGowan's death and could face the death penalty. 

In addition to talking about McGowan, neighbors promised each other that they'd keep an eye on their property and look for signs that something might not be right. None of the attendees had ever met McGowan, though she'd only lived in the house at 807 St. Clair since June.

"We need to look out for each other," said Kelly Ceppa, who lives four houses down from the house McGowan rented. Carey Morton suggested that McGowan, known among friends as a person who brought people together, was doing the same in death.

"Even though we didn't know her," said Morton, "she's in some way causing this gathering."

Two days later, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church was filled with people who knew McGowan well, and whose grief is still fresh. A picture of McGowan sat on a piano next to a red rose, a large bouquet of flowers, and two boxes of tissues. 

 "Jayne's grace, poise, and beauty enchanted everyone she came in contact with," said Kathy Baker, McGowan's boss at the AIDS/HIV Services Group. "Her smile brought light and joy to all." 

The theme of Baker's speech was vulnerability— how open McGowan was about her own vulnerabilities and her compassion for others. Baker hoped for "our memories and experiences with Jayne to outweigh the memories of her death."

McGowan's friend Paige Matthews said that at McGowan's funeral in Syracuse, New York, her father, James McGowan, encouraged her friends and family to "live out her legacy of joy and friendship and love of life."

As McGowan's friend and ASG colleague Adam Thompson read a familiar passage from Ecclesiastes– "a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot"– he seemed to put emphasis on the third line: "a time to kill and a time to heal."

Following Thompson's reading, several of McGowan's friends came forward to talk, including Matthews, who said that McGowan gave everyone "a sense of how important friendships are," and that throughout life, McGowan was always bringing her friends together. Even in death, said Matthews, McGowan had pulled her friends closer.

A tearful Downing Smith, McGowan's landlord, said that while he didn't know his tenant very well, "Maybe one day I'll be lucky enough for one of my sons to marry a girl like Jayne and then I could have a daughter-in-law like her." Overwhelmed by emotion, he stepped down.

As the ceremony ended, Kate Brown sang "Ave Maria," accompanied by Matthews. 

Following the service, Thompson recalled McGowan's unique ability to comfort and befriend.

 "She taught me a lot about community," he said, describing the loneliness experienced by people with HIV and AIDS. "She made it less lonely. It's tough to meet someone who makes HIV less sad."#