By AMANDA ARNOLD
A cold Sunday afternoon filled with rain and snow set the tone for a somber remembrance of a teenager’s life taken too soon.
The Downtown Clergy of Jeffersonville and of No Life Forgotten gathered at the entrance of Cambridge Square Apartments to remember 17-year-old Tara Willenborg, who was murdered in her apartment March 2.
The Rev. Jennifer Mills-Knutsen of St. Luke’s United Church of Christ shared stories of Willenborg, who with her family attended service at St. Luke’s every Sunday. Mills-Knutsen knew Willenborg since she was 10. Leading the service was personal for Mills-Knutsen, because Willenborg was part of her congregation and “like family.”
“She had this dream of baking cupcakes, and opening her own cupcake shop someday,” Mills-Knutsen said. “We got to have that on Saturday nights, because she would make cupcakes, and sometimes early before church she would make cupcakes. She would come walking over to the church carrying loads for all of us to share.”
She added that she witnessed Willenborg make her profession to God, and during the confirmation, Mills-Knutsen told her that God would always be with her.
After the service, Mills-Knutsen shared that Willenborg had a bright future, and she always had a bright smile that matched her great sense of style and art.
“She brought beauty to the world. Everything she did, she tried to make it more beautiful,” said Mills-Knutsen.
The 15-minute memorial service was a quiet time of prayer for the victim, her family, the community, those in authority of public safety, appointed officials and finally the suspect, Richard Hooten.
“It’s what Christians do. Part of it is to pray, and it’s prayer for the world, and that’s why we gathered here. Because prayer is one response that we can make to horrific evil,” said Nancy Woodworth-Hill, co-pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The Downtown Clergy started No Life Forgotten in 2006 in response to a crime that occurred on Maple Street in Jeffersonville. Since 2006, the group responds to one or two murders each year.
“Any time there’s a murder in our community, we always gather and we do a simple 15-minute service to reconsecrate the space,” Mills-Knutsen said. “We talk about reclaiming our neighborhood, because when violence happens it’s not just violence to one family, it’s to the whole community.”
The mission of No Life Forgotten is a means of supporting the family and affected community, and it addresses the need for the church community to offer a response to the murders that occur.
“I think we’re all aware that violence is increasing in our community right now, and every time we do these services we grieve for the families, and for the community,” Mills-Knutsen said. “We would like to do less of them, but it seems like we are doing more and more.”
John Hill, co-pastor at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, explained that clergy “feel strongly to celebrate life, and not death.”
“This is a way for us to reaffirm that life,” said Hill.
Hooten, 49, is in the Michael L. Becher Correctional Complex in Jeffersonville. His charges include murder and rape. The Clark County Prosecutor’s office said Monday they have still not decided whether to seek the death penalty in the case.