Editor's View: Justine’s Fund shows strength of her family and our community

Inside the Fishbowl
By: Deric Rothe
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Justine Vanderschoot, a smart, pretty, vibrant 17-year-old, was brutally murdered by her boyfriend and his roommate in September 2003. The cowardly, hideous killing, committed by Danny Bezemer and Brandon Fernandez, shocked the entire community. Although a plea deal saved the young killers from death and avoided a costly, painful and agonizing trial, it also left hidden the gruesome details of Justine’s final hours and any motive, no matter how twisted, which could help the family and community attempt to make sense of this tragedy. The Vanderschoot family, to their credit, chose to react to their very personal loss with bravery, honor, dignity and positivity. Their amazing reaction is truly a testament to the human spirit. On Saturday night, parents Don and Lynette Vanderschoot and their daughter, Christine hosted “Wish You Were Here,” a dinner, raffle and dance that raises funds for local law enforcement programs. “I think it was a great turnout with a great demonstration by the SWAT team,” Lynette Vanderschoot said. “Scott, Brad, Tom, Devon and Ed were all there.” Lynette and Don Vanderschoot are on a first-name basis with District Attorney-elect Scott Owens, District Attorney Brad Fenocchio, senior Prosecutor Tom Beattie, Undersheriff Devon Bell and Sheriff Ed Bonner. Not only do the Vanderschoots want to thank the law enforcement professionals who put their daughter’s killers in prison, but also they feel camaraderie with them and the local media, because all involved shared a dark and difficult time and came out together into the light. “All the people who were involved with the case were there,” Lynette Vanderschoot said. “This is a positive thing we are doing.” The numbers are not yet in from Saturday’s event. But the past four years saw Justine’s Fund raise and donate more than $80,000 to the Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office, Chaplaincy program and the Center for Victims of Violence and Crime. That money has been used for ballistic shields, Taser guns, updating computers, Breathalyzer equipment to test suspected drunk drivers and more. With tough budget cuts seemingly everywhere, each dollar raised helps fill the gaps. But it’s more personal than that. District Attorney Brad Fenocchio came to talk to Lynette Vanderschoot before he left Saturday night. He looked her in the eye and said, “This is an event I wouldn’t miss.” A much more personal education effort, funded by Justine’s Fund, is a pamphlet created for high school-aged girls. Called “Does he really love me?” the booklet educates young women on the signs of an unhealthy relationship. Patsy Fletcher, with Victims of Violence and Crime, personally distributes the book to teens who she thinks could benefit. Justine’s story is on the front page and there are tests in the pamphlets that girls can take to see if their boyfriend’s behavior in too domineering. “I did not notice the signs with Justine,” Lynette Vanderschoot said. “She never talked to her mom. I would have quit my job and stayed home with her. Anything.” There are many others in the community who have stepped up to help the Vanderschoots and their cause. Auburn Rotary Club and Virgil Traynor’s team cook tri-tip and chicken, donating their time. Dave Johnson and the Meadow Vista Lions Club man the bar every year. They donate all time and proceeds. The Justine Vanderschoot fundraisers have made a positive out of a negative. It’s a wonderful effort that says a lot about our community. Fernandez will eventually come up for parole. But before any parole can ever be granted, the family and community deserve some closure. The true story must come out. What was each boy’s role and motive? Was Fernandez’s 15-year sentence too lenient for what he did? Was this simply the case of a jealous boyfriend and a violent and crazy roommate gone mad? Or was there more to it? The Vanderschoots, and our community, deserve answers.