Members of the University community filled the Memorial Chapel on Thursday, May 14, to celebrate the life of Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10, who was shot to death on May 6 while working in the Red & Black Café. Family members, friends, professors, and others shared memories, read poems, and expressed their affection and love for a woman known for her passionate scholarship, ardent support of women’s health issues, and unceasing devotion to her family and friends.
Although the events surrounding Justin-Jinich’s death—including an almost 36-hour manhunt for her killer that ended when her alleged murderer, Stephen Morgan, turned himself in at a convenience store in Meriden—remained fresh in everyone’s minds, those who spoke at the memorial service ultimately focused on the small details and defining characteristics of her life, even as they acknowledged the tragedy of that life ending so suddenly.
“I know I will miss her every day when I don’t get that text message, IM, call, or visit like I’m so accustomed to,” said Leah Lucid ’10 at the service. “I also know that I will love her and thank her for all that she taught me about the importance of letting yourself love fully, completely, passionately.”
In both public tributes and in interviews with The Argus, family and friends noted these small yet constant gestures of affection that Justin-Jinich (or “Yoyo,” as many warmly called her) gave to those of whom she cared. Standing alongside Justin-Jinich’s mother, Ingrid Justin, at the memorial service, stepmother Vicki Canfield tearfully read aloud from a final series of text messages shared between herself and Justin-Jinich, which mixed loving affirmations with moments of wry self-deprecation (acknowledging that she had not called Canfield recently, Justin-Jinich wrote simply, “Ugh, I suck”). Friends, too, recalled the multitude of small ways in which she let them know that they were in her thoughts: from a handful of Weshop candy delivered to a friend working in Olin Library to an encouraging voicemail on the day before a big exam to a late-night heart-to-heart.
“She knew what you needed, whether it was another kick in the butt or to make you laugh or to just be there and be a loving, wonderful friend and listen,” said Ariana Snowdon ’10 in an interview with The Argus. “She just knew. She knew what people needed, and she loved making people happy.”
This attention to the emotional needs of those around her stemmed from her desire to foster caring and close relationships over assembling a wide collection of friends. Friends of Justin-Jinich recalled spending the most time with her in quiet and intimate settings—dinners at Summerfields, studying on the floor of her dorm room— rather than large social gatherings.
Lucid noted that establishing this sense of close familial bonds among friends was particularly important to Justin-Jinich. She had found such friendships when she traveled from her hometown of Timnath, Colo. to board at the Westtown School in Westtown, Penn., and she continued to build similar types of close relationships while at Wesleyan.
“She was not into just having a lot of acquaintances,” Lucid said in an interview with The Argus. “That was not what she cared about at all. She cared about forming really close, really full relationships. I don’t think she really cared about how many close friends she had. She just needed to have some people close to her that felt like family.”
While at Wesleyan, Justin-Jinich further developed her longtime interest in women’s access to healthcare and reproductive rights. She volunteered as an escort at a local abortion clinic and translated for Spanish-speaking patients in the obstetrics wing at the Meriden Health Center, as part of a student-led forum on feminism she took during the spring of her freshman year. This summer, Justin-Jinich would have begun an internship at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Capitol Hill-based organization that specializes in researching and promoting women’s issues. She had discussed pursuing a masters’ degree in public health policy, possibly at Columbia University in New York City.
Justin-Jinich seemed particularly invested in helping all women gain access to proper health education and resources, regardless of economic means or social status. Anna Pachner ’09 recalled in an interview that Justin-Jinich—whom she first met through the feminism seminar—organized and distributed a survey to the health center’s female patients on whether they felt thoroughly educated about breast-feeding techniques when their children were born.
This concern for public health can be traced back to her family. Her maternal grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, was a doctor, and both of Justin-Jinich’s parents are also doctors; her mother works for healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente. More broadly, friends credit Justin-Jinich’s sense of social responsibility to her familial background.
“They believe very strongly in equal rights and the right to health care,” said Justin Bours ’10 of her family in an interview with The Argus, adding that the multi-colored “Pace” flag that adorned her room and hung over the altar during the memorial service “was very representative of what [Justin-Jinich] believed in: civil rights for all, peace for all.”
This flag will be hung in the Red & Black Café in her memory.
If issues of public health seemed to shape her desired career path, Justin-Jinich was both enamored by and dedicated to the study of literature and poetry. A College of Letters (COL) and Iberian Studies double major, she set her personal academic standards high: keeping up with the day’s reading and participating in class discussions. Snowdon noted that, even when taking COL’s demanding comprehensive examinations this past April, Justin-Jinich’s passion for the subject matter had shone through, adding (as did several other of her friends in interviews) that she wished she could have experienced Justin-Jinich firsthand in the classroom.
“One of my regrets was not taking a class with her,” Snowdon said in an interview, before adding with a laugh, “though I think she was one of those students you hate because they’re so brilliant.”
Professors, as well, took notice of Justin-Jinich’s academic prowess and commitment, as well as her generous and friendly personality. At the service, Professor of Letters Khachig Tölölyan recalled her patience with him as he attempted to remember the correct pronunciation of her first name in class, adding that she eventually acquired the nickname “J3” to avoid further confusion.
“I saw how energetically yet carefully she had read the assigned texts, how hard she had already thought about them on her own, and how she liked thinking about them with someone else, in dialogue,” Tölölyan said. “She made teaching her a pleasure.”
Nevertheless, friends took pleasure in recalling how seamlessly Justin-Jinich could combine the scholarly with the utterly ridiculous in everyday conversation, moving from analysis of the latest “Grey’s Anatomy” episode to pondering epic philosophical questions. Lucid and Bours both recalled what they referred to as “the Yoyo voice,” a high-pitched squeal by which Justin-Jinich would communicate with her friends when particularly excited. Lucid used to be self-conscious when she found herself slipping into this infectious vocal mannerism amongst those who did not know Justin-Jinich. Now, she finds that it gives her comfort.
“She could be a total kid with us and then have a completely serious conversation with me on my bed about life,” Lucid said in an interview. “She really could be both the child and the fully-grown woman.”
The coexistence of Justin-Jinich’s serious and silly sides could be seen throughout the memorial in reflections made by friends and family members, but also in the slide show of pictures assembled by Bours. Carefree group shots followed introspective close-ups of Justin-Jinich as the photos traced her life from infancy through adolescence to her days as a Wesleyan undergraduate. And while both the slideshow’s music and the memorial-ending performance of “Steal Away” by The Wesleyan Spirits (accompanied by Lucid and Snowdon) hewed toward the somber, Bours noted with a smile that Justin-Jinich’s own musical tastes encompassed both the slower ballads of the Dave Matthews Band and Snow Patrol—heard during the service—and the pop hits of Britney Spears and Girl Talk that, for obvious reasons, he chose not to include in the memorial.
Justin-Jinich’s love of Spanish poetry could also be seen throughout the service. As a student, she read the works of such writers as Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda with zeal, and had been planning to write her senior thesis on the Spanish poets of Lorca’s generation. In addition to the re-printing of “Poem 20” from Neruda’s “Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair” within the program, several of the evening’s speakers remarked upon or read poetic works in Justin-Jinich’s honor: from lines written by Neruda and Lorca to an untitled and anonymously-written work spoken by Seth Halpern ’09 to a bilingual poem—entitled simply “Para You”—written and recited by Findlay Walsh ’11.
Several of her friends commented that the unbridled passion seen in both Lorca and Neruda’s work spoke to Justin-Jinich’s own intense romanticism and belief in the overwhelming power of love.
“Nothing was ever too romantic for Johanna,” Pachner said in an interview. “These really, really intense love poems: that’s what she thought love was and what love should be. It was never too much for her.”
This conception of romance gestured toward a larger love of the classically feminine. Pachner recalled dress-shopping with Justin-Jinich in a New Haven clothing store some time ago. Her infectious love for boldly feminine styles eventually convinced Pachner to purchase a red, floor-length, strapless dress that she might otherwise have never considered.
“[These dresses] had drapery and accentuated curves and everything that I think a lot of women our age are afraid to wear,” Pachner said in an interview. “She always pushed everyone in that direction: to embrace yourself as a woman.”
Indeed, simultaneous beliefs in old-fashioned notions of romance and womanhood and the importance of female empowerment and self-respect proved constant—and occasionally contradictory—forces in Justin-Jinich’s life. Snowdon recalled how Justin-Jinich could seamlessly move between these seemingly conflicting notions in conversation, even as she worked to balance them in her own life and romances.
“In her own relationships, she was a die-hard, head-over-heels romantic,” Snowdon said in an interview. “She loved everything to do with traditional, classy, girly romance. When she gave advice, however, her feminist side came out. She gave very practical, logical, and sometimes stern advice, which she didn’t always follow.”
Such internal complexities could sometimes lead to interpersonal friction: something friends freely admit when discussing their relationships with her. Lucid confessed to the occasionally frustrating task of pointing out to Justin-Jinich when she was repeating her own mistakes, in relationships or otherwise. Similarly, Bours—her roommate in High Rise this past year—recounted the emotional fight they had at one point over the division of household chores and responsibilities. Such tense moments, however, only speaks to the deeper bonds that ultimately held them together as friends.
“It was the closest thing to unconditional love,” Bours said in an interview.
Lucid smiled, and quickly added, “I think that’s why we felt like it was family.”
Certainly, the tragedy of Justin-Jinich’s death remains felt by those who knew her. Lucid admitted during the service that she still finds it hard to believe that Justin-Jinich will not be her housemate next year. Miles Krieger ’10 expressed a similar feeling of grief-filled yearning mixed with thankfulness for the brief time he knew Justin-Jinich.
“We were together for three months, but I won’t miss her for just three,” Krieger said at the service. “We were beginning, and I’m so happy we began.”
However, those who spent time with her before her tragic death spoke of the ever-present qualities of warmth, passion, and dedication to those she loved that defined her life to the very end. Robbie DeRosa, the manager of the Red & Black Café who hired Justin-Jinich when she was a freshman, recalled the relief that she felt coming into work that day, having just completed a COL paper. DeRosa had given her a high-five in congratulations, and they went about their usual routine of mixing smoothies and preparing paninis.
“I want everyone to know that, on that day, she was happy,” DeRosa said at the memorial service. “They’ll always be a place in our heart for Johanna.”
Similarly, Snowdon recalled her final conversation with Justin-Jinich the night before her death. Snowdon came to her door tired and needing to talk. Justin-Jinich proceeded to tuck her into her bed, and the two had a typically wide-ranging conversation in which they discussed the hoped-for trajectory of their lives.
Eventually, Snowdon got up to return to her own room, and she and Justin-Jinich said good-bye one final time.
“The last thing we said to one another was ‘I love you,’” Snowdon said in an interview. “That brings me a lot of comfort.”