Victim Impact Statement written by Becky Ziprick about the death of her sister Jeani.
“Judge Broderick, I am a sister to Jean Schmitt and I live in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada. I thank you for the opportunity to tell you about my sister Jeani. She grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, the second of five girls born to William and Nancy. The love they shared with each other enhanced the devotion they had for their daughters.
Jeani was a good student and attended an advanced high school that prepared her well for the academics of university. The field of study she chose was social work. Her first job was working with high school students and the story is told of her going to the home of a delinquent student and insisting that he get out of bed and get himself to school! I might add that he graduated and moved on to more challenging goals. Jeani had high expectations personally and modelled that so well.
After her marriage was blessed with children, she modified her employment to providing childcare so she could be at home with her two sons whom she adored. The children in her care were like family and the bonds continued long after babysitting ended. Later she went back to school and obtained her masters in social work and continued to work with children in the school system in the Lockport area. How meaningful it has been for us as a family living in distant cities, to hear how Jeani impacted staff and students with whom she worked.
Jeani was two years older than me so I quite naturally looked up to her as a mentor. In admiration, I longed to keep pace with her. Growing up we shared clothes and board games, dish duty, arguments, and childhood dreams. As adults we raised children together, celebrated each other’s joys and comforted one another through losses. Because of the distance that separated our family, our times together were cherished. Pettiness or being disagreeable was just not an option. That would be a waste of precious time.
When I received a phone call from my sister Nancy in the middle of the night on November 21, 2002, telling me our sister Jeani had died, her words were beyond belief. Jeani was only 54 years old and healthy and she died after falling down the steps in her home? That was preposterous! Even before we finalized travel plans to Lockport, we received word that Jeani’s husband of 4 years had been charged with second degree murder. That was absurd! This earth-shattering event burst into our lives with no advance warning and we are still reeling from the aftershock. The myriad of emotions we have experienced—rage, shock, betrayal, confusion, despair—only puts a name to a few. The effects of nightmares, interrupted sleep, and anxiety have taken a physical toll on our bodies.
I so long to get beyond the ugliness connected with the circumstances of Jeani’s death. It is difficult to put closure to that when the justice process is so lengthy. Getting word of hearings and court dates is like ripping the bandages off a wound not nearly ready for exposure and family members of the victim are left hemorrhaging in grief once again. There was so much goodness and beauty in Jeani’s life, and I want that to be the focus.
Jeani was a beloved daughter, sister, mother, friend, and coworker. She met disappointments with determination and rose to a challenge. Her creativity found its way into needlepoint and quilting. She had a wealth of friends. I admired her acceptance and warmth with others. She was so much fun and she planned for it. She made a pilgrimage south to New Orleans for Christmas and spring breaks, great times to flee cold days in New York—frequently taking friends along to show off her Southern heritage.
There is no way to measure the meaning of someone’s life or the emptiness left when that person is gone. Words are so limited to express emotions. As family members we struggle with the void left by Jeani’s absence. In July, we gathered for the wedding of her eldest son, John. She was so looking forward to that event and oh how we missed her presence…
A scripture verse I have been clinging to lately is from Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” If I am consumed by hate or overwhelmed by sorrow, I will also be in a prison as confining as one with bars and walls. That is not something that I can will for myself but trust that God will help and strengthen me to overcome evil with good. While I don’t know what shape or purpose that “good” will be, I trust that in time God will make that clear. I think that Jeani would agree.”