BY RICK PFEIFFER
It’s not the first time that vandals have struck the memorial for Jennifer Bolender, but this time may have been the worst.
Sometime between April and last week, someone appears to have taken a hammer or similar tool and used it to try to pry off or smash a marble memorial plaque that marks the spot where Jennifer died. Her mother, Tina Balsano, couldn’t believe what she saw.
“It’s frustrating,” Balsano said, standing next to the damaged memorial. “I was aggravated and just shocked. There’s some sick individuals out there.”
The plaque is attached to the wall of a LaSalle Expressway overpass. The walkway, where prosecutors said Bolender was “slaughtered” by three other teenagers in 2002, has been named the Jennifer Bolender Memorial Overpass by the state Department of Transportation.
“It helps us to remember her,” Balsano said wistfully.
In addition to the plaque, flower arrangements, stuffed toys and notes hang on a fence that encloses the overpass. The freshness of the flowers on Thursday afternoon was a testament that many still come to the memorial.
“It’s nice that her friends still come here and do this,” Balsano said. “It makes you feel good, knowing that people liked her and remember her.”
Balsano, who has moved from the Falls since her daughter’s death, said she went to see the memorial on a visit to the Falls in April.
“Everything was fine then,” she said.
Back in the Falls for another visit, earlier in August, she decided to again come to the memorial. Jennifer, 16 at the time of her death, would have turned 20 years old on Aug. 10.
“I didn’t come up then,” Balsano said. “I didn’t come up on her birthday because I came up to talk to her and remember the good times. I don’t like to remember the bad things, it reminds you of the sick individuals who did this.”
Daniel Pardee, Christopher Cummings and his brother Kyle, all teens themselves at the time of the slaying, were each charged with second-degree murder and first and second-degree conspiracy for their roles in a crime that left many in the Falls shaken by its brutality.
The trio took a blood oath and promised to take their secret to their graves, but quickly turned on each when the cops confronted them. The Cummings brothers both pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified at Pardee’s trial.
The testimony at the trial showed that Pardee, a one time boyfriend of Bolender’s, attacked her on the pedestrian bridge as she was walking with him and Kyle Cummings. Pardee punched Bolender, knocking her to the ground at the base of the bridge and then kicked Bolender repeatedly, stomped on her face and, with Cummings, dragged her more than 100 feet back up on the bridge.
"Once she was there, he (Pardee) hung on to the railing and jumped on her head until her face was unrecognizable," Caroline Wojtaszek, the lead prosecutor in the case said. "Then he stabbed her again and again in her throat."
After leaving the crime scene, Pardee and Kyle Cummings returned about 45 minutes later, with Christopher Cummings, because they were concerned that Bolender might not be dead. They were right, she was alive, but just barely.
At Pardee's direction, Wojtaszek said, Christopher Cummings then cut Bolender's neck "almost in two."
A jury took just three hours to convict Pardee of murder and conspiracy. He’s now serving a 25 years to life prison sentence.
Kyle Cummings is serving a six years to life sentence. Christopher Cummings is behind bars for a nine years to life sentence.
Police say they have no leads on possible suspects in the vandalism, but they are investigating it.
“It’s one of those crimes that’s difficult to prove,” Falls Police Captain John DeMarco said. “But we’ll do what we can and take whatever action is appropriate.”
Balsano hopes that the plaque can be repaired. She believes it is the lasting legacy to Jennifer.
“Someday, all this other stuff won’t be here,” she said, gesturing toward the flowers, stuffed animals and cards. “But the plaque will. It’s just sad that we live n a society where people would do something like this.”
Contact staff writer Rick Pfeiffer at (716) 282-2311, Ext. 2252.
BY RICK PFEIFFER
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