Community Grieves Kindergarten Teacher Allegedly Killed by Mother-in-Law During Divorce
"She loved just making a difference in kids' lives," one friend tells PEOPLE
Here are a few of the words Alyssa Kent uses when she talks about the recent shooting death of her friend Jenna Wall: “devastating,” “heartbreaking” – and “why?”
But here are some of the words that Kent uses when she talks about Jenna herself: “happy,” “smiling,” “loving.”
“She was always doing for others,” Kent tells PEOPLE, adding, “We’re all just still kind of shocked.”
On June 23, Jenna, a 35-year-old mother of two, was found dead in her parents’ home in the Atlanta suburbs. She had been living with her parents while going through a contentious divorce and custody dispute with Jerrod Wall, her husband of nearly 12 years, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE. (She filed for divorce in October.)
Cobb County police allege that Jerrod’s mother, Elizabeth, went to the home that day and fatally shot Jenna within earshot of her two young sons, both under the age of 10.
Elizabeth was arrested at the scene and charged with felony murder. Police tell PEOPLE they are still searching for a motive, and declined to say what role, if any, the divorce and custody dispute played in Jenna’s death.
As the investigation unfolds, her sons are faced with the loss of their mother.
“She loved those boys fiercely, those boys were her life,” Kent says, adding that Jenna enjoyed baking them “extravagant” birthday cakes. Kent says that it is difficult for her to imagine how Jenna’s mother-in-law could have robbed her own grandchildren of their mother.
“How could another mother take away a mother?” she says.
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A ‘Contagious Smile’
A lifelong resident of the community where she taught kindergarten at Kemp Elementary, Jenna was killed just a few miles from the school. Being a teacher was something she loved and was called to do, Kent says.
“I think what drew me to her was her contagious smile,” says Kent, who met Jenna when they were both students in the teaching program at Mercer University. “She had a smile that just – when she walked into a room smiling, everyone would look.”
“[Jenna] loved just making a difference in kids’ lives,” Kent says. And “the impact on her students is going to be tremendous.”
Her death has also shocked and saddened her co-workers, fellow teachers and staff, who “are just as devastated as I was,” Kent says.
Jenna “always wanted to make sure everyone was taken care of first, before herself, even if it was at her own expense,” she says.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Kemp Principal Shea Thomas echoed Kent’s sentiments, calling Jenna’s death a “tremendous” loss. Thomas said that as a teacher Jenna “eagerly volunteered to take on additional responsibilities and amazed all of us by how much she could accomplish.”
“Although Jenna’s career as an educator was one to be admired, she will be remembered more for how much she loved her two sons,” Thomas said. “She was fortunate to have her boys attend school with her, and she made the most of every day with them. Jenna’s love for her boys is everlasting.”
In the wake of her death, the community came together for a candlelight vigil, attended by hundreds. Hundreds more gathered for Jenna’s funeral, with a program that featured a smiling photo of her and her sons.
One longtime neighbor, who asked not to be identified and lives just a few houses away from the home where Jenna was shot, says she is still processing what happened.
“It’s a quiet neighborhood,” she says. “It was absolutely shocking and nerve-racking and heartbreaking. It still is.”
The neighbor says she did not know Jenna’s family, except in passing: She would see Jenna with her two sons in the yard, playing basketball or riding bikes, an “always heartwarming” sight.
Following her death, every home in the neighborhood put a white ribbon on their mailbox. The neighbor tells PEOPLE she saw a lot of activity at Jenna’s parents’ home in the days after her death but hasn’t seen anyone since.
She says that the shooting was confusing enough to process as an adult: “You can just imagine how her kids feel,” she says.
A Family Shattered
Elizabeth, Jenna’s mother-in-law and the suspect in her death, is being held without bail in the Cobb County jail and will make her first court appearance on July 29, a magistrate court spokeswoman says.
In addition to felony murder, Elizabeth is charged with one count of aggravated assault, one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and two counts of cruelty to children in the third degree, according to jail records.
She has not entered a plea to her charges, the spokeswoman says.
Despite repeated calls, PEOPLE was not able to reach Elizabeth’s lawyer, Jimmy Berry, for comment. Attempts to contact Berry in person were not successful.
PEOPLE has not been able to reach the Wall family for comment. Jenna’s divorce attorney, Stephanie Steele, declined to comment; and Jerrod, through his divorce attorney, Suzanne Henrickson, declined comment also.
But Henrickson tells PEOPLE that Jerrod is focused on moving forward with his sons, and that “he wasn’t harboring any ill will or ill intent” toward Jenna before her death.
“Those who truly know Jerrod Wall recognize in him a deep love for his children and know that he would never want his children to be without their mother, without a beloved grandmother, and with a family tragedy that will forever affect their lives in a negative way,” Henrickson says, adding, “It will forever be a scar upon the family.”
Police say Jerrod has been cooperative and is not a suspect.
Kent tells PEOPLE she hopes this for Jenna’s sons – “her boys”: “At some point in time, that [they] know how much she was loved.”