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Family honors Wellsville murder victim Laurie Kuykendall Kepner

Sean Philip Cotter
505-5437/@SPCotterYD

Standing over both her daughter’s grave and the spot where she herself will one day rest, Nancy Kuykendall took her hand off her walker to jab her finger a few times toward the headstones.

“I was supposed to be there before her,” she said, anger and sorrow clear in her voice.

Laurie Kuykendall Kepner was murdered by her estranged husband in the driveway of their Wellsville-area home on May 29; the husband, Martin Kepner, also killed Laurie’s friend Barbara Schrum before turning the gun on himself.

On Saturday, a few family members and friends gathered at the graveyard behind Emanuel Church just south of Lewisberry at the intersection of Rosstown and Pinetown roads for the unveiling of Laurie’s gravestone, and for everyone to say a few words about the woman they loved who died too young.

Nancy Kuykendal waits to release "notes to heaven," balloons with messages attached from her daughter Laurie Kepner's gravesite in Emanuel Cemetery in Lewisberry, Saturday Dec. 5, 2015. Kepner and her friend Barbara Schrum killed by Kepner's estranged husband May 29. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

“My life wasn’t his to take,” Karen Kuykendall Nordsick read from a piece of paper on which she’d written a poem from the perspective of her sister, who spent years unable to get away from her abusive husband. “Love turned to fear kept me in a chokehold — blurred my vision.”

Some of the thoughts about Laurie — sad, happy, angry, regretful, whatever — those in attendance had written down on little index cards. They then tied the index cards each to a balloon, which they held as they listened to Karen talk.

Then they let the balloons go, a couple at a time. The wind took them south, almost right at the sun; the little orbs became little flecks in front of the bright light before they drifted to the side and out of view, carrying their emotional payloads somewhere beyond the horizon.

Karen Nordsick writes a note to her sister Laurie Kepner before releasing "notes to heaven," balloons from her gravesite in Emanuel Cemetery in Lewisberry, Saturday Dec. 5, 2015. Kepner and her friend Barbara Schrum killed by Kepner's estranged husband May 29. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

Resting place: Emanuel Cemetery is really, truly beautiful. Laurie’s ashes are buried toward the back, where the winding paths have zigzagged up a little rolling hill and then started their descent down the other side from the church, which sits just out of sight. Her ashes are buried on top of the coffin of her father, Eugene, who died 20 years ago. Eugene has one of those wide grave markers that couples use when they’re buried together. Nancy’s name is on it, too, and, someday, she’ll rest next to the husband and daughter there now.

In front of her parents’ stone, Laurie’s is smaller, but, everyone agreed, more visually striking. Her name’s carved into the marble marker, with a detailed picture of one of her cats etched beside it. Laurie loved cats, her family said, and that one was her favorite — a cute feline named Susie.

Karen Nordsick watches released balloon "Notes to Heaven" float away from her sister Laurie Kepner's gravesite in Emanuel Cemetery in Lewisberry, Saturday Dec. 5, 2015. Kepner and her friend Barbara Schrum killed by Kepner's estranged husband May 29. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

Standing at her grave — especially on as clear and mild as that December Saturday afternoon was — you can look north farther down the hill into a little valley, the area just south of Lewisberry.

Karen, her husband and one of her daughters waited for everyone to show up, fiddling with the Christmas-y and animal-related decorations they'd brought, until someone exclaimed something and pointed down the hill. There stood a small unexpected guest: a baby deer, which was soon followed by its mother. The humans whipped out their phones to take pictures of the four-legged visitors.

A few minutes later, when Nancy and the other few people showed up, Karen told them about the deer. They got a kick out of it.

“Laurie probably sent them, seeing how much she loved animals,” Nancy said.

Awareness: Laurie’s family has spoke to the media several times since Laurie’s murder; Karen in particular has wanted to be vocal about the violence that claimed her sister’s life, as she wants to help those in similarly abusive relationships, she said Saturday afternoon.

She’s angry; angry at Martin Kepner, of course, for murdering her sister, but also frustrated with how long Laurie stayed with him, while at the same time angry at the government and other organizations for not providing more accessible ways for Laurie to have gotten help in escaping.

That last feeling is something, at least, she can do something concrete about, so others don’t feel like they have to suffer alone, Karen said. She said she’s organizing a benefit golf tournament in May; the proceeds will either go to victims of domestic violence or awareness about the problem.

Karen Nordsick waits for family and friends to arrive to remember her sister Laurie Kepner by releasing "notes to heaven," balloons with messages attached from her gravesite in Emanuel Cemetery in Lewisberry, Saturday Dec. 5, 2015. Kepner and her friend Barbara Schrum killed by Kepner's estranged husband May 29. (John A. Pavoncello - The York Dispatch)

Karen said many people in abusive relationships don’t know that there are resources available to them, organizations that can give them aid. Her sister didn’t know, she said.

“She wasn’t aware of a lot of things that could’ve helped her,” Karen said.

Laurie’s family said they also encourage people to donate to some of the local groups that do that, such as Access-York and the YWCA. Karen hopes the press coverage of what happened to her sister can help draw attention to this.

As Karen said, reading from the poem she’d written from Laurie’s perspective: “Remember my name — shout it.”

— Reach Sean Cotter at scotter@yorkdispatch.com.

Finding help

If you are being abused or threatened by a domestic partner, there are county and state agencies to help you. Here's how to reach some of them:

Access-York and the Victim Assistance Center, both part of the YWCA of York: (717) 846-5400 or (800) 262-8444

YWCA of Hanover's domestic-violence shelter: (717) 637-2235

Safe Home of Hanover, also part of the YWCA of Hanover: (717) 632-0007

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence's website, pcadv.org, has lists of resources and provides information about fighting domestic abuse.

Call 911 right away if you are being assaulted or threatened.