It was impossible not to be enchanted by Jessie Mellinger, according to those who love her most. The bubbly, vivacious redhead with the ever-present smile embraced life, whether she was spoiling her young cousins, playing softball or meeting new people at her job as a substitute mail carrier.
"Everyone loves her," said Mellinger's mother, Lesa Prince of New Freedom. "She always had a smile on her face, no matter how bad things were. She helped anyone who needed help."
Jessica Mellinger died Tuesday night at the hands of her boyfriend, John R. Snyder, who fatally shot her in the chest outside his York Township home, then committed suicide a few hours later during a standoff, police said.
At 24 years old, the New Freedom woman knew what was important, her family said.
"She loved to be around friends and family," said her aunt, Jennifer Hofstetter.
Spoiled her cousins: Hofstetter's children range in age from 8 to 14. On Wednesday afternoon she said she dreaded breaking the news that their Aunt Jessie -- who spent time with them, took them places, bought them gifts -- is gone.
"They just adore her," Hofstetter said. "She was one of a kind."
She also loved spending time with her older sister, Amanda Mellinger, their mother said.
Jessie Mellinger grew up in Winterstown and graduated from Red Lion Area High School.
She worked as a substitute carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, going wherever she was needed, including in Red Lion, New Freedom, Felton and Brogue.
"She loved it," Prince said, because she enjoyed travel and had the chance to meet new people.
No idle hands: Mellinger was outgoing and had to stay busy, family said.
"She just goes right in and starts talking," recalled grandmother Shirley Bollinger, who gave Mellinger the nickname "Jessie."
"She was a kind person, very kind," the grieving grandmother said. "Just an all-around good person."
Stacey Bollinger said her niece nurtured those she loved, that it was simply Mellinger's nature.
Spoke her mind: But Mellinger also had the courage of her convictions and wasn't afraid to point out if she thought someone was in the wrong.
"She spoke her mind," Prince said. "She always stuck up for the underdog."
Yet she chose her words carefully, according to Prince, who said sometimes people Mellinger chastised didn't even know they'd been scolded.
Mellinger was a tomboy who rode a dirt bike, enjoyed attending motorcycle hill climbs, planned to get her motorcycle license and played softball, her family said.
But she also enjoyed being "girly," according to her mother, and loved to dress up to go country line dancing. Sometimes she wore heels, other times she preferred her cowboy boots.
Talked of proposal: Mellinger would have turned 25 on Feb. 7.
Prince said Mellinger recently told her that Snyder, her boyfriend, had announced he intended to ask Mellinger to marry him on her birthday.
Prince and other family members, who gathered in grief Wednesday at Prince's New Freedom home, said they had witnessed no problems between the couple.
Mellinger was at Snyder's 525 S. Franklin St. home when she and two people who live there fled outside and got into a vehicle parked in the driveway, according to York Area Regional Police Sgt. Jeff Dunbar.
Shot in car: Snyder followed them outside with a shotgun, shot Mellinger, then dragged her body back inside the home, he said.
Snyder opened fire on arriving officers about 11 p.m., forcing them to take cover, according to Dunbar. He continued to shoot at officers for a period of time, and at one point an officer returned fire when he felt he was in danger, the sergeant said.
York County Coroner Pam Gay said it appears Snyder's only wound was a self-inflicted shot to the head.
A standoff ensued. When the York County Quick Response Team entered the home about 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, they found Mellinger and Snyder dead.
Mellinger's other survivors include her father, Robert Mellinger of York City, stepfather Stephen Metz and grandparents Alvin Jr. and Pat Mellinger.
-- Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.