BALLSTON SPA – Juanita Rust hoped she made a silent connection with Emma Katherine Jones Tuesday night.
“It’s very sad what happened,” said Rust, 11, a sixth-grader at Ballston Spa Middle School. “We thought our coming, her spirit could feel we were here.”
About 600 people were part of a spiritual, emotional farewell to Jones, 12, the seventh-grade honors student at Ballston Spa who police say was shot to death by her father inside her Adams Circle home last week.
A candlelight vigil in 22-degree weather attracted students, parents and faculty who nearly filled the six-section metal bleachers at the Ballston Spa High School football field.
Investigators say Steven Jones, 46, also shot and killed his wife Jennifer, 43 — using a long gun in the double murder-suicide case. The three bodies were discovered Friday afternoon after Steven Jones’ employer, GlobalFoundries, asked police to check the home because Jones had missed two days of work.
School officials said the Jones family did not have any close relatives in the area.
Ballston Spa Central School District Superintendent of Schools Ken Slentz, who met reporters before the vigil, said Jones was strong in academics, arts and tennis and had many close friends. “This is tragic in so many ways,” he said, “but just the type of young lady that she was makes it worse.”
Students and faculty inside the 970-student school have been coping with the tragedy. Counselors, nursing staff and human resource personnel have been talking with students; the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department brought in a team of canines to comfort the kids.
“Those multiple layers of support, I think, really made a difference,” Slentz said.
Middle school student Isabella Kaldy addressed the large crowd and said she had known Jones since both were little girls. They used to celebrate their friendship at sleepovers.
Kaldy said her friend already knew where she wanted to go to college — Stanford University in California — and loved to travel.
“She was enthusiastic about visiting old castles, churches and museums,” Kaldy said. “However, Emma’s greatest love was animals. She aimed at saving all of them. Because of this, Emma became a pescatarian [no meat diet, fish allowed] and was quite proud of that.
“On her birthdays, Emma requested donations be sent to the wildlife Conservation Society instead of receiving personal gifts,” Kaldy added. “A very selfless act, so typical of Emma.”
Other speakers became emotional as they remembered Jones, whose smiling photograph was on the evening’s printed schedule of events.
Jordan Brustle, youth minister at Grace Fellowship Church in Saratoga Springs, said Jones joined the church youth group in 2017.
“When you got to know Emma, you saw the display of hope and joy in her life,” Brustle said. “She loved to laugh and be silly with her friends. She was gifted as an artist, loved playing the alto saxophone and loved competing in tennis and swimming. She enjoyed life and she wanted others to enjoy it too.”
Caroline O’Connor, a counselor at the middle school, said she met Jones during the fall of 2017. She said Emma had a caring nature, an infectious laugh, was kind to others and loved to learn.
“Everything about Emma made others want to be near her,” O’Connor said. “This was true for both students and adults. When I interacted with Emma I always walked away feeling all was right in the world.”
School officials had 750 candles available for the vigil. Children were also offered stuffed teddy bears for emotional support.
“She was really nice, really outgoing, really good at tennis,” said Emily Bailey, 14, another tennis player at the school. “And she was really nice to others.”
Angelene Roberts, 17, a varsity tennis player, also wanted to pay her respects. She said she has been coping with the tragedy.
“I have just been thinking about the good times she must have had in her life,” Roberts said. “I would have loved to have known her better. She seemed so sweet.”
Speakers also talked about Jennifer Jones and her good work as a pediatric occupational therapist at Capital District Beginnings, a contractor to the Saratoga County Head Start program. They said Jennifer and Emma did many things together, and had been excited to welcome a new puppy into their home.
People lit their candles, or tried to light them in the bitter cold temperatures. Many instead used the bright white lights on their cellphone cameras.
Another tribute came from the seventh-grade choir. Members left the stands and walked to the edge of the field, where they sang three verses of the Christmas carol “Silent Night.” A few young girls in the group were overcome by tears during the song.
Middle School Principal Pamela Motler offered final words, about the sadness of walking away from such an emotional event.
“Walk away knowing Emma saw all of this,” Motler said. “And Emma and Jen appreciated it very, very much.”