Mother of slain Schaffhausen girls: 'They would not want me to give up'

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 21, 2013 - 8:42 PM

Jessica Schaffhausen stays in motion every day with support, kindness and “a lot of good from people.”

In the middle of the night, wide awake in the dark, Jessica Schaffhausen wrestles with the nightmare of her reality.

She forces away the chilling memories of how her three daughters died, of her ex-husband the murderer. Think of the good, she tells herself. Remember all the joy the girls brought to the world.

When morning finally comes, it’s those memories that get her out of bed.

It used to be unthinkable that she ever could live without her daughters: A couple of years ago, her youngest, Cecilia, asked innocently, “What would you do if I died?”

Jessica promised her that she wouldn’t, not for a long, long time. “How would I survive that?” Jessica told her.

But now she must. Every day, every morning, every minute.

“I owe it to them to just keep going,” she says. “They would not want me to give up.”

As soon as the jury verdict was read last week, Jessica felt relief. Twelve men and women had agreed that Aaron Schaffhausen was legally sane when he cut the girls’ throats that day in July, tucked them into their beds, and then called Jessica telling her — torturing her — about what he had done.

The jury’s decision means he will go to prison, and that makes her feel safer, she says, knowing he won’t be able to hurt her or anyone else she loves.

She tries not to think of him, focusing instead on remembering her spunky, imperfect daughters.

In her first interviews since the July 10 killings, Jessica said she hopes the rest of the world can do that now, too.

She can hear Amara, the bespectacled budding scientist, announcing already in kindergarten that she “preferred nonfiction” books. At age 11, Amara watched MIT lectures online, engrossed herself in an algebra book and perfected the chemistry in meringue to top her homemade lemon pies. She proudly presented report cards filled with A’s, seeking her mother’s praise.

Jessica can see Sophie, artist brush in her 8-year-old hand, always messy with ink, paint or chalk, concentrating so intently on the paper in front of her. Sophie didn’t need her mother’s approval — she didn’t care about anyone’s approval. Jessica loved that about her, though it made parenting her a challenge. Sophie was the most photogenic of the girls, but Sophie didn’t care about that kind of thing, either. She had a lot of friends with special needs.

She can feel the warmth of little Cecilia, who loved holding kittens and crawling into her mom’s and sisters’ beds at night, uncomfortable sleeping alone. Cecilia was a peacekeeper at day care. She listened to the Current radio station while riding with her mom in the car, critiquing the music from the back seat. She crawled and walked early, determined to keep up with her sisters.

“I always said Amara was pure logic and Sophie was pure emotion, and Cecilia used whatever tool was most effective,” Jessica said with a wistful grin.

Mom and three daughters were just starting to have real fun together. The kids had grown older, and Jessica, 33, did more with them and less for them.

They all read books, sometimes together, sometimes on their own but discussing them afterward. They rode bikes to the library and to the park. They played board games. They watched movies.

“I think about them pretty much all the time,” she said.

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  • “I think about them pretty much all the time,” said Jessica Schaffhausen of daughters Amara, Cecilia and Sophie. She said that she feels she owes it to them to keep going.

  • Jessica Schaffhausen held an urn holding some of the girls’ remains. Art by Sophie is in the background.

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