“Body found on Bethesda Row,” read the news alert that showed up in my inbox that bright Saturday a year ago.
I had been trying on bridesmaid’s dresses at a bridal shop in Rockville with my soon-to-be-married friend, whom I met when we were both journalism graduate students at American University. We delighted in the minute decisions that would all somehow come together in a few months to make her wedding day perfect. Strapless? One shouldered? Apple red or burgundy?
But the lighthearted morning quickly turned into an adrenaline-fueled whirlwind of breaking news coverage, as the first details of a horrific murder that would thrust Bethesda into the national spotlight began to emerge.
After barreling down Rockville Pike, I was told by a police spokesman outside the yoga-shop-turned-crime scene that masked men had raped and beaten two women inside, leaving one dead.
That day, I thought what every woman in Bethesda must have been thinking – it could have been my friend. It could have been me.
For many, the horrific scenario was the worst imaginable way to die. It was so easy to picture it -- a familiar daily routine gone suddenly, horribly awry, the terror and pain and complete helplessness this otherwise strong and capable woman must have felt.
It could have been me, but it wasn’t – and for that I felt equally relieved and awful. Awful for feeling relieved. Awful that where I hadn't suffered, someone else had.
In the days after the murder, I spoke with men and women who stopped by the shop to place flowers or a note. They all told me the same thing – they couldn’t believe this had happened here. They no longer felt safe. When they walked to the Metro at night, they looked over their shoulder.
“I’m just concerned for all the young girls in town,” one older woman told me, stopping to pause in front of the shop. Then she looked at me. “You be careful, okay?”
Just a week later, we learned it wasn’t the masked men that took Jayna’s life. It was her co-worker, Brittany Norwood, who police said cut, stabbed and bludgeoned her more than 330 times, and then lied to cover it up.
One of the most tragic elements of the case was coming to realize there was a worse way to die than at the hands of masked assailants. But that March Saturday, it was a death none of us could have ever imagined.
I never met Jayna Murray. But through pictures, the now-famous YouTube video of her daring bungee jump, and the stories of her friends and family, Jayna has come alive for many of us even after her death. We would have easily shared beers or a margarita had I gotten the chance to meet her -- a spunky, spontaneous woman just months away from graduating with two masters degrees, months away from moving to Seattle and making the pending engagement with her longtime boyfriend official.
But Jayna will never marry. Nor will she try on bridesmaid dresses with her best friend, Marisa Connaughton, who bravely stood before a Montgomery County judge at Norwood’s January sentencing and described what it felt like to plan her wedding without Jayna by her side, what it felt like knowing she no longer had a best friend to share stories with over a bottle of wine.
Many in Bethesda never knew Jayna Murray, never suffered the devastating loss of her family and friends. But her spirit has touched us nonetheless, and we have come together in embracing her memory. Though she died here, we want to ensure she lives on here, too.
Sunday, a year since the crime, the community gathered at Lululemon to pay homage to her, just as we did a year ago. Jayna’s friends and family were there too, after running a race in her honor. They were decked out in green and shirts embossed with the slogan, "Jayna Go Bragh."
Translation: Jayna forever.
A woman who lives close by, Nancy Beang, 66, stopped by with an armful of flowers – orchids, tulips, carnations, daisies. “I can’t tell you how this has touched this community,” Beang told me after placing them outside the shop. “I just feel so sorry for her parents and co-workers.”
Beang hadn’t known Jayna, but told me from the pictures, she could tell she had been full of life. She brought the flowers, she said, to bring comfort to Jayna’s family, who she heard would be coming by.
“I was just afraid the parents would come here and there wouldn’t be anything,” she said before leaving, without stopping inside.