Reporting Esme Murphy
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – July 10 will mark the one-year anniversary of the murders of the three Schaffhausen girls.
On Tuesday, the girls’ mother, Jessica Schaffhausen, spoke out in her first television interview about her efforts to raise money for a playground to honor the girls’ memory.
“I think this park gives everyone the focus they need,” Schaffhausen said.
She said that within days of the murders of 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecelia, family members had an idea that a memorial playground would be a great way celebrate the girls’ short lives.
But it was not until two high school students approached Schaffhausen with a fundraising plan that the effort came together.
The well-worn playground at Hoffman Park in River Falls, Wis., was a favorite of the Schaffhausen girls. The girls are still close by.
“Their headstone is in the graveyard right there that borders Hoffman Park, and it’s directly across from their elementary school,” Schaffhausen said.
And it is there that Schaffhausen hopes will be the site of a new, 10,000-square-foot memorial playground, accessible to children with disabilities.
“As far as a location, it would be very meaningful to them,” Schaffhausen said. “That’s…where their good times where.”
She can’t remember when she first heard someone suggest the playground idea.
“July, August were very foggy for me,” she said.
Indeed, there was the murder and insanity trial of her ex-husband to deal with.
“I pretty much put everything on hold until after the trial,” she said.
But it was right after the trial that two River Falls High School seniors — Hannah Bellrichard and Samantha Jensen — came to her with a fundraising idea.
“These girls came up with the idea of doing a run and just…made it all happen,” Schaffhausen said.
Bellrichard’s mother had been the court-appointed victim’s advocate for Schaffhausen during the trial. Jensen had volunteered in Sophie Schaffhausen’s second-grade classroom.
“I was like ‘Hannah, we need to do something just to pay it back to the family and show them the community is really there for them,’” Jensen said.
The high schoolers are organizing a fun run in July, and it’s just one part of an effort to raise $500,000 for the new playground that’s fully accessible to children with disabilities.
“Many of [the girls’] friends had disabilities,” Schaffhausen said. “So I think they would appreciate having something that allows kids of all types to come [and play].”
Although work for the playground is in motion, grief is never far away.
“That’s just something I am going to live with forever,” Schaffhausen said. “What helps me is to remember that there is much more love than there is anything bad, and to also focus on the short term…getting through one day, one hour, at the beginning it was every minute.”
The playground fundraising effort — with Bellrichard and Jensen handling the bulk of the work — is a welcome distraction for Schaffhausen.
“It’s nice to have something to focus on, and having them do the organizing,” she said.
And always she says she has Amara, Sophie and Cecelia on the mind.
“I just focus on that the girls would want me to keep going, and so I try to do that as best I can,” she said, adding: “My girls were amazing and wonderful, and they were here for a reason.”
Schaffhausen is also organizing a fundraising art show featuring the girls’ artwork. That will be held in August in River Falls.