Janay Rice, the student, mother, friend

The Baltimore Sun

She is the girl from a rundown neighborhood who became class president at a posh prep school. A quiet and driven Towson University student. An adoring mother. One of the unofficial leaders of the sisterhood of wives and girlfriends of Ravens teammates.

Janay Ashley Rice is also a woman America has seen knocked unconscious by the man she loves.

The grainy clip of her now-husband, former Ravens running back Ray Rice, punching her in an elevator has been played repeatedly on national media in the past week. Millions have watched Rice dragging her limp body from the elevator.

Pundits have advised the former Janay Palmer to leave Rice, whom she married the day after he was indicted on a charge of aggravated assault. They have said her support for her husband is a symptom of battered wife syndrome. Critics have derided her; some have even blamed her for the violence.

But to those who know her best, 26-year-old Janay Rice is more than Ray Rice's wife. She is ambitious. Compassionate. A woman of inner strength.

When Kareema Roach moved to Baltimore in 2012 after her fiance, Bobby Rainey, joined the Ravens, Janay Rice was the first woman to reach out, she recalled.

"She had open arms," said Roach, 24, who now lives in Tampa Bay, Fla., where Rainey plays for the Buccaneers. "She takes everyone in."

Professors at Towson University, where Janay Rice earned a bachelor's degree in mass communications last December, were impressed by the determination of the young woman from the New York suburb of Mount Vernon.

"She was always on top of her game. I don't think she ever turned in an assignment late," said Jennifer Potter, who taught Rice in an upper-level course.

Rice was intent on completing her degree — despite the fact that her husband was, at the time, under a $35 million contract with the Ravens. The team released him this week after the video emerged. He has also been indefinitely suspended by the NFL.

"She would always talk about how she wanted to be a good role model for her daughter," Potter said. "She wanted to show her how important college was."

Professor Sandy Nichols said Janay Rice was "the kind of student you wanted to have in class."

"She wasn't the top student, but she was a hard worker," Nichols said. "She was attentive. She participated."

Both professors said they were devastated when they learned of the attack.

"From the very beginning, we were just heartbroken," said Nichols. "We want her to know how much we feel for her, and we hope she's getting help."

Janay Rice declined to be interviewed for this article. At the couple's Reisterstown home, she told a reporter that the family planned to hire a public relations firm before making further comment.

But she did post an emotional plea on Instagram the day after the video surfaced and her husband was released from the team.

"To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing," she wrote. "If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels."

Sandi Timmins, executive director of the House of Ruth Maryland, a domestic violence shelter and advocacy group, said women and some men can suffer domestic violence regardless of how much money they earn, how many years of schooling they've had or how much success they've enjoyed in their careers.

"It affects people in every socioeconomic situation you can think of," Timmins said. "Every community shares it equally. There is no pocket where it is more prevalent than another."

Timmins has met with Janay and Ray Rice, but her comments were of a general nature and not directed at any specific situation.

Janay Rice describes herself as "Mrs. Rice & Rayven's Mommy" on her Instagram account, and includes this quote from the Book of Isaiah: "No weapon formed against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you."

Since an initial video of the attack in an Atlantic City casino surfaced in February, the couple has portrayed the incident as an anomaly — a terrible moment in an otherwise healthy relationship.

At a news conference, Janay Rice apologized for what she described as her role in the attack. The Ravens tweeted that comment. Last week, after the video showed Ray Rice as the principal aggressor, the tweet was deleted.

Roach said she talked with Janay Rice at a retreat for Christian professional athletes that both couples attended in March, just weeks after the attack.

"She only had positive things to say about him," she said.

Roach said that during the many times that the couples hung out together in Baltimore, she saw no indication that Ray Rice could be violent.

"I would have never in a million years thought this would happen. I still to this day don't want to believe it," she said. "I've seen them argue, but I never heard him raise his voice."

After a courthouse ceremony in March, Ray and Janay Rice celebrated with a formal wedding at the Four Seasons in June. Janay Rice wore a sparkling form-fitting dress, and Rayven, the couple's 21/2-year-old daughter, lit up the dance floor.

"It was very emotional. There were lots of tears that day," said Jimmy's Seafood owner John Minadakis, a friend of the couple who attended the wedding.

There was a sense that the two had triumphed over great adversity, he said, a theme the minister addressed in the opening remarks, he said.

As the summer wore on, the couple's lives appeared to be slowly returning to normal.

Janay Rice posted pictures of her husband hoisting their daughter to see sheep at the Maryland State Fair and the two clowning over cups of ice cream. She displayed a new necklace with the words "Mrs. Rice" stamped on a dainty gold tag, along with the names of her husband and daughter.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't thank God for this silly girl," Janay Rice captioned a photo of her and her daughter wearing Ravens T-shirts. "She makes life so enjoyable and I'm lucky to be her mommy."

As August drew to a close, Janay Rice snapped a photo of a gathering she had helped organize of wives and girlfriends of the team members, tagging it "ravensnation," "family."

"She's not the typical player's wife that sits in the corner with the Louis Vuitton bag and just looks good," said Minadakis, 31, who has organized many events with the Rices. "She's her own person; she's not just Ray Rice's wife."

Dee Poquette, who handles communications for the Ray Rice Foundation, said Janay Rice never hesitates to roll up her sleeves at events.

"She's not there for the cameras," Poquette said. "A lot of times, the media doesn't even know she's there. She's unloading trucks, getting dirty with everyone else."

Rice grew up in Mount Vernon, a working-class suburb just north of the Bronx, N.Y.. Her parents, who live in the first-floor apartment on a faded block, declined to be interviewed for this article.

Lowes Moore, the executive director of the Mount Vernon Boys and Girls Club, has known both sisters and their parents for years.

"When you have good families and you've been raised the right way, it's reflected in your kids," he said.

Moore called the Palmer sisters "inseparable" despite a five-year age gap.

He described Janay Rice, a friend of his younger daughter, as "very pleasant, quiet" and "focused on school" as a teenager.

Rice, who is African-American, attended Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, a prestigious, mostly white all-girls Catholic prep school taught by the Sisters of Divine Compassion in the affluent suburb of White Plains.

Rice became president of the student council and captain of the track team, according to the 2006 yearbook.

After graduation, she traded in her blue kilt and white polo shirt to take classes at Westchester Community College. It was then that she went on her first date with Ray Rice, who had grown up in nearby New Rochelle, N.Y.

He took her to the Cheesecake Factory, and she was so nervous she could eat only a slice of cheesecake, according to a paper written by a fellow Towson communications student.

Soon after they began dating, Janay Rice moved to Baltimore to be closer to her boyfriend. She enrolled at Towson, shared an apartment with fellow students and worked as a waitress at Towson Golf & Country Club.

In August 2010, Janay Rice and a roommate were arrested on a charge of shoplifting nearly $1,000 of cheap jewelry and perfume from the Kohl's store in Timonium. She received probation before judgment and paid a $400 fine, according to court records.

Potter, one of her professors, said Rice used to talk about the difficulties she had adjusting to life in Baltimore. She often said she felt alone when she first arrived, Potter recalled.

"She's always seemed to me to be someone who didn't want to be in the spotlight," Potter said. "And since February, she's been paraded by the Ravens and others who put everyone else's needs above her own."

Baltimore Sun reporters Susan Reimer and Jessica Anderson and researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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