NEW ALBANY — Remember Jacque Vaught? A lot of us still do.
We see her in a store or perhaps at her office. We do not always know what to say, or if to speak at all. Vaught does not mind being recognized, though, much less greeted. It typically means we remember someone else.
Vaught's younger daughter was Shanda Sharer.
Shanda was tortured and burned alive near Madison on Jan. 11, 1992, almost 25 years ago. She was 12. Four teenage girls pleaded guilty to roles in Shanda's vicious killing. Two remain imprisoned. They are older than was Vaught when her daughter died.
To Google Shanda's name is to learn, or to recall, scads more about a death that will not die. Vaught checks in there once in a while and speaks up especially if Shanda's memory seems to need it.
Vaught will not be surprised by renewed attention as a milestone anniversary nears. "I'm really grateful she's still alive in people's minds and hearts," Vaught told me of Shanda. "She's very worth remembering."
If the date quietly comes and goes, however, that too would be just fine. Nice to let the wound heal as best it can. "I just do what I have to do," Vaught went on. "And here we are, 25 years later."
Vaught seems in a remarkably good place, considering. At 61, she looks forward to retirement as does her husband, Doug Vaught. Jacque Vaught's older grandchild, 23-year-old Aspen Kendall, lives in New Albany with the Vaughts. The other grandchild, 18-year-old Jaelen Porter, likewise is close. "I did get robbed," Vaught said.
"But we do have my (two) grandchildren. That's fulfilled us tremendously."
Vaught wants, and has all along, for Shanda's death to serve more than those who overwhelm the internet. That is mostly on which Vaught ever has counted. In the crime's aftermath, Vaught felt compelled to leave her claims representative job at American Commercial Barge Line to advocate for crime victims and to hold hands of parents fearful their children could be the next Shanda. "I would still have been there (at ACBL)," she said. "I loved it."
Like that, Vaught became instead a go-to authority on coping with evil. Love your children no matter what, she advised then like now. Tell them, without fail. Yet nonetheless be vigilant. "Don't ruin today worrying about tomorrow," she said. "At times that's hard. It's hard not to worry."
Along the way, Vaught has been exploited, sometimes criticized. An occasional parent incredibly has doubted Vaught's skills raising Shanda. While trying to understand, Vaught defends herself with vigor. "I was not a mother who didn't care," she said. "I was the complete opposite."
More parents told Vaught, and still do, that her nightmare woke them up. If so, Shanda's death saved lives just like Vaught believes.
She went on to work in the office of then-Floyd County prosecutor Stan Faith and is employed these days as a paralegal in Faith's law office. Faith said Vaught fights her way through dark moments and then leads many others through theirs. "Basically she's everybody's mother or older sister, depending on how old you are," Faith said.
Faith admires how Vaught confronts the unimaginable and prevails. Had she succumbed to bitterness, well, who could have blamed her. "It's always there," Faith said. "It's always out in front."
Shanda Sharer is buried alongside her father, Steve Sharer. Their daughter would be 37, surely still tender-hearted like Vaught recalls. Vaught said her older child, Paije Porter, still struggles with the killing. While Vaught comforts herself with thoughts on reuniting with Shanda. "I don't want people to feel sorry for me," she said.
"I'm good. I know where my child is. This is my life. I don't know what life would have been like if this hadn't happened."
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