On a September day in 2007, Jeffrey Jacobsen had just finished buckling his two young sons into his SUV and was about to drive away from the Timonium home he once had shared with 37-year-old Jessica Jacobsen, his estranged wife.
Instead, according to reporting in The Baltimore Sun from the time, Jeffrey Jacobsen turned to his father, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the SUV, and asked him to tell Jessica Jacobsen to come outside.
Jeffrey Jacobsen pulled a handgun from the backseat and, when his wife emerged from the house, shot her twice in the chest before running into the house and shooting himself to death.
Despite the best efforts of neighbors who rushed to the scene when they heard the shots, Jessica Jacobsen died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, according to her parents, John and Gat Meredith, of Cockeysville.
Ten years later, member of Jessica’s family recall her as a beautiful soul with a captivating smile and as a hard worker who never spoke ill of her enemies. The family also recalls Jessica’s life through an annual memorial event in her honor, the Jessica Meredith Jacobsen 5K and Family Fun Run, in Towson, which helps to raise awareness about domestic violence and services for victims.
Now in its 10th year, the event also raises money for Catholic charities and tuition assistance funds in Jessica Jacobsen’s honor. This year’s event will be held at The Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Towson, at 8 a.m. Sept. 23.
Sitting in their Cockeysville home last week, John and Gat Meredith recalled their daughter, the shock of her death and how they have dealt with the loss.
Jessica, a graduate of Dulaney High School and Villanova University, was a manager at the Baltimore-based investment firm, T. Rowe Price, where she oversaw 100 employees but was too humble to tell her parents of her responsibility, the Merediths said.
Though she misses Jessica, Gat Meredith says she has made peace with her daughter’s death, adding that her faith leads her to believe she’ll be reunited with her daughter in heaven.
“I know Jessica would have done so many good things with her life if she could,” Gat Meredith said. “[But] there is so much good that came out of a horrible thing.”
The race was initially the idea of a member of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic-based fraternal organization of which John Meredith, 73, is a member. However, the idea was well received by the family as a way to honor Jessica’s memory, he said.
“We're involved for the dual purpose of keeping Jessica's memory alive and bringing awareness to the problem of domestic violence,” John Meredith said.
Proceeds from the race will be split between the church’s tuition assistance scholarship fund, the Knights of Columbus Council No. 4011's Father O’Neill charities, and House of Ruth Maryland, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that aids victims of domestic violence.
The House of Ruth will use its share of the race’s proceeds to support its general services, including shelters, counseling, and legal and hot line services, said House of Ruth spokeswoman Cheri Parlaman.
“Whenever money is raised for us … helps another victim,” Parlaman said, adding that about $100 provides a night of safety for a victim and their family.
According to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, which tracks domestic violence deaths, 55 Marylanders died between July 2015 and June 2016 as a result of domestic violence. Of those, 42 were victims of abuse. The others were abusers and bystanders.
The network, a statewide domestic violence coalition, provides education and advocacy and works to train direct service providers to become more effective, executive director Michaele Cohen said. Its employees work to strengthen rights for victims and punishments for abusers.
Some abuse victims have protective orders in place against their abusers, as Jessica had with her husband, whom the courts prohibited from contacting his wife, children and family members.
In recalling the months leading up to Jessica Jacobsen’s death, members of her family said that several warning signs were present that they did not know how to recognize at the time.
Jessica’s sister, 44-year-old Hillary Hennighausen, said she knew the couple was having problems due to Jeffrey Jacobsen’s depression, adding that Jeffrey had been seeing a counselor.
“I never thought that would turn into something different,” said Hennighausen, of Cockeysville.
In April 2007, Jessica obtained a protective order after her husband allegedly tried to strangle her while she was getting ready for work in the couple’s home, the Merediths said.
“She took the day off and drove here,” Gat Meredith said. “I remember her sitting here and saying, ‘I think I should call the police.’”
The order prevented Jeffrey from contacting Jessica or their children, but granted Jeffrey visitation with the children in the presence of a family member, Hennighausen said.
Although protective orders are helpful, so is taking other steps to ensure safety, such as relocating, filing criminal charges after an assault, changing locks, lighting and alerting neighbors to the abuse, Cohen said.
“Sometimes people do everything right and they’re still killed,” Cohen said.
Last year, Maryland passed legislation requiring police in Maryland and Correctional Training Commissions, which establish and enforce police standards, to review and develop a lethality screening protocol and training for officers to use when investigating complaints of domestic violence and assault by strangulation.
The screening, which is also used in 38 other states, helps identify those who may not realize they are in danger, Cohen said.
In 2012, Baltimore opened a center that allows parents to provide and seek family visitations with a third-party moderator in a public space. Baltimore County's circuit court also offers a visitation center in Cockeysville, where supervised visitation is initiated by court order, according to the county website. The House of Ruth is working on building a similar project, the Merediths said.
“We’ve tried to improve these safety responses over the past many years but people are still at risk,” Cohen said. “Abusers can be very dangerous.”
T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore-based investment firm that employed Jessica, sponsors the race, promotes it to employees and hosts an annual raffle to benefit the House of Ruth, T. Rowe Price spokeswoman Heather McDonold said.
About 100 of the firm’s employees participate in the race each year, which the Merediths said adds to the atmosphere of the “celebration of life.”
Hennighausen, who is a runner, said she plans to be on the sidelines this year taking in the number of people who come out to support her family.
The family plans to cheer on participants and to thank and support them and race officials where they can, she said.
Over the past 10 years, the race has raised about $120,000, said Knights of Columbus member and race director Glenn Thuman.
“This has been a labor of love for all these years, but I’m so glad we’ve been able to do it,” Thuman said.
About 500 runners and walkers participate each year with the primary goal of raising awareness of domestic violence, he said.
“If we just wanted to raise money there are better ways, but this is really to raise awareness of domestic violence and help prevent that,” Thuman said. “We want men and women to grow up and not consider [domestic violence] an option.”
The Jessica Meredith Jacobsen 5K Memorial Run and one-mile Fun Walk will start and end at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, at 200 Ware Ave.
After departing the church, runners will make a right on to Allegheny Avenue and wind through West Towson before ending near the Bykota Senior Center.
Cash awards and medals will be given to the top three male and female finishers. Age group winners will receive medals.