Maren and Tina: Gone Too Soon

Maren and Tina: Gone Too Soon


   Tina Livernash Heins


Maren Sanchez

It was the morning of Friday, April 25, 2014, the day of her junior prom. Sixteen year-old Maren Sanchez arrived at Jonathan Law High School in Milford, Connecticut and had taken the back stairs down to a lower level of the school. She and her girlfriends had been hard at work making all of the usual preparations for the prom season. All she had to do was get through her Friday school schedule before she could go home and slip her floor-length cobalt dress over her head and step into Cinderella style shoes.

Maren did not make it to her first hour class. She was fatally stabbed in her face, neck and torso in that back stairwell. The accused, Chris Plaskon, was her longtime friend. Plaskon, described by those who know him as congenial and respectful, is the third of five brothers. His family has deep roots in the community.

The prom was postponed. Maren Sanchez’s friends put on their gowns and tuxes and in a spontaneous tribute, they released balloons, held up her empty cobalt dress, and crowned the slaughtered 16-year-old as their prom queen. She was an honor student, class president and active in sports and theater. She had natural leadership traits but perhaps her most salient characteristic was her natural inclination to reach out to others and offer kindness and support. It would appear her family had done all of the right things in raising a wholesome girl who was on the peripheral of womanhood.

Chris Plaskon is a reserved boy. He struggled with depression and attention deficit disorder and had been taking medication not at extraordinary event as The Center for Disease Control reports that six to ten percent of US teens use mediations for ADHD and /or depression. One friend shared with a reporter that Plaskon had been attached to Maren since middle school but the attachment was one way. Friends and one teacher indicated that Plaskon had asked Maren to the prom and she had turned him down.

I watched a network tape of a professional yet troubled Milford Chief of Police Keith Mello at a press conference. He was asked why students were not screened for guns and weapons. Online writers were quick to blame single parents, uninvolved fathers, Facebook and other technologies that are constant companions of teens which spread emotional fire quicker than a desert sand storm. One feminist writer predicted that given enough time people would begin to blame the murdered victim herself perhaps for outperforming Plaskon and taking the role from what was once considered male privilege: high school president, leader and scholar.

Maybe it was the picture of that empty dress that made me shudder and remind me of another young woman in Wisconsin.

On the night of April 17, 1994 twenty year old Tina Heins arrived at her apartment late after working at a Jacksonville, Florida beach hotel. No doubt she would have been tired as she was four months pregnant with her first child. Tina was a small woman in stature. But what she lacked in height, she made up for in her beauty and lively personality.

She had moved from Menomonie, WI where she was a college student majoring in the restaurant tourism program at UW Stout. She had married Jeremy Heins who was from the same area of Wisconsin Rapids as she was. She had some reservations about moving from the small rural towns of Wisconsin Rapids and Menomonie, Wisconsin to live in the sprawling metropolis of Jacksonville, Florida particularly since she knew her new husband would be on regular 24 hour multiple week rotations in his job as a Navy seaman with the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville. She and Jeremy were newlyweds and she wanted to be with him so she overcame her jitters and made the move.

Within hours of arriving home that night, Tina Heins was brutally stabbed 27 times to death in her bed. A close friend of Tina’s said that her throat was sliced as well. Jeremy was on ship that night or so he said. His nineteen year old brother, Chad Heins, was sleeping on their living room coach. He had moved to Jacksonville to pursue opportunities that he did not have back home in Wisconsin Rapids. Chad had returned home at 12:30 a.m. after a heavy night of partying. He had a history of blackout drinking. He woke up just before 6 a.m. to find fires burning in the living room and kitchen including one on the sofa where he slept. He found Tina with a pillow over her face in her bed.

Four years later, Chad Heins was convicted of murder and sentenced to a life sentence in Florida. Tina’s husband turned state witness against his brother to the horror of the father of both Jeremy and Chad. The father severed his relationship with Jeremy. Rumors flew around the young people’s home town that Jeremy was the murderer as he was seen openly dating another women in Wisconsin Rapids just two weeks after Tina’s death.

After serving years in prison, Chad sought help from the Innocence Project. The Project used tissue samples collected from the murder scene as well as from both Jeremy and Chad and concluded that neither Jeremy nor Chad was a match to the DNA left behind by the perpetrator. Thirteen and a half years later, Chad Heins was released from the Florida prison and returned home to the small town area of Wisconsin Rapids where his brother, mother and father and Tina’s parents still lived.

In recalling these horrible events, I remembered that I never attended Tina’s funeral. I don’t recall even sending a card to her family. I confessed this to a friend of mine over a recent lunch and she reminded me that I was in the middle of a health crisis myself and that I was focused on taking care of my daughter who was one of Tina’s best friends. My daughter had made a road trip to Jacksonville to help Tina move a carload of personal possessions a month before she was murdered. Tina had tried hard to convince my daughter to stay with her in Florida but after a week-long visit, my then 19 year old daughter had returned home. The death of Tina unraveled her.

I have never forgotten Tina. My first grandchild, Lauren, now 17, carries Tina’s name as one of two of her middle names: Christina Maureen. Every time I write out a birthday card for her or when she signs her name in a swirly signature on the wall size white board in her designated room at my house, I am reminded. Occasionally, my daughter will tell me that she was contacted by someone investigating Tina’s murder. It was only in the week of Maren’s death when I was making inquiries to my daughter about Tina that she told me she still hears from Tina’s mother.

Twenty years have passed by all too quickly since Tina’s life and the life of her unborn child was taken. It has been a brutal Wisconsin winter but the earth warms with each new day. Somewhere between the towns of Junction City and Wisconsin Rapids in a small cemetery lies Christina.

Down the road from the cemetery in Junction City both of Tina’s parents still carry on with their lives without her.  I am overdue to visit her grave and her parents.  Hopefully, I will have the company of my daughter and her daughter so all of us can learn more about Tina and moving forward from tragedy together.

Modern Day Slavery

Modern Day Slavery

I read President Jimmy Carter’s recent book A CALL TO ACTION Women, Religion, Violence and Power (2014) over the weekend. He articulates in a direct and clear voice about subject matter that is difficult yet pervasive across the planet: genocide of girls, “honor” killings, child marriage and dowry to name just a few. But he is at his most compelling in his discussion of modern-day slavery and prostitution of children and women.

Carter reminds us that while slavery is illegal all over the world today sources such as the Global Slavery Index and the UN International Labor Organization estimate there are just under 30 million people trapped and transported against their will and enslaved today. It is likely that more people are being trafficked over borders against their will than at any previous point in our history. Add to that the hundreds perhaps thousands of children and women who are coerced by family members, boyfriends or “friends” into the commercial sex trade within their own state and it is easy to understand why the trafficking of humans of which over 80 percent are children and women is an underground multi-billion dollar business. Many of these children and women are drugged and transported to “brothels” in motels, private homes and condos. The primary advertising tool of the human traffick business is the internet.

So what is trafficking? Sex trafficking is a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud or coercion. If a child in under the age of 18 and is engaged in prostitution, that child is considered to be a trafficked victim under the law as no child is able to give legal consent to such abuse. Domestic Servitude (Labor) Trafficking involves the transportation, harboring, and recruitment by means of fraud or force for unpaid work. One might think trapping and forcing a child or grown women into the role of a sex or domestic slave is rare, particularly in the United States. It is not.

A Sex trafficker’s tool kit includes trapping by false pretense, victim starvation, confinement, beatings, physical abuse, rape including gang rape, threats of violence to them or to their families, forced drug use and shaming; that is revealing their activities to their family and friends. Sex trafficking does not have to involve the movement of its victims from one city or country to another; it occurs within family units where family members force children or women into trafficking for money.

If lucky enough to be rescued from the conditions of modern-day slavery, victims are left with physical and psychological effects that last a lifetime: drug and alcohol addiction, broken bones, vaginal and anal tearing, post-traumatic stress syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, forced abortions, suicidal thoughts, shame, mistrust, intense fear to name just a few of the most common.

The most common age of entry into the commercial sex industry is 12 to 14 years of age. The FBI has identified Atlanta as one of 14 cities in the US with the highest incidence of children exploited in prostitution. Each month, just in Georgia alone, 300-500 girls are commercially sexually exploited throughout the state of Georgia and on average 7,200 men pay for sex with adolescent girls in Georgia each month. And that is just Georgia.

Wisconsin, the state in which I live, is not innocent of modern-day slavery. Wisconsin is home to both international and domestic trafficking. According to the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance, the majority of Wisconsin citizens do not believe that human trafficking is a Wisconsin problem but they are wrong. Human trafficking has been reported in both rural and urban cities within the state. Sadly, Wisconsin research data report that the majority of victims are forced into commercial sex exploitation by those who have the primary responsibility for them: family members. Incredible as it may be, there are reports of high school boyfriends who sell their girlfriends for money for sex to friends and acquaintances. Such behavior is illegal, immoral and repulsive.

Stop Human Trafficking 2

So what can be done? Take the time to educate yourself and your family about the real and present danger of child and human trafficking. Education is power. The topic is unpleasant and upsetting; but the consequences of becoming informed on child and female trafficking by way of having a loved one trafficked is catastrophic.

Acquire an in-depth understanding of the link between drug addiction, pornography and child and adult prostitution as a multi-billion dollar industry; an industry that acquires its “product”, children and adult victims, by way of entrapment, coercion and violence. Pay attention and believe information that local law enforcement professionals present in the media and in local presentation programs.

If you see any signs that a child or adult you know may be a victim of trafficking, reach out for assistance in making a contact with that individual. Many victims are unaware that the kind of life they have been subjected to is illegal. Most are fearful that their lives will become worse or they will be killed if they ask for help. Professional training is a must in approaching a suspected victim; don’t go it alone.

Finally, take an active step in your own community and state by demanding laws that support violence against women and children. Ask what is being done in your community and state to support child and adult victims of domestic violence, commercial sex trafficking, domestic trafficking and child violence in the way of health programs and a host of related services for its victims. Put organized pressure on state and national politicians to attend to the serious business of passing strong anti-human and child trafficking laws. Demand legislative results, not lip service or endless games of denial, of politicians who are paid to ensure the protection of its citizens’ civil rights. Ask for strong laws to be enacted which will protect undocumented immigrants and to expose and hold legally accountable wealthy corporate farm owners who force farm workers in involuntary servitude, a practice that has close similarity to the practice of slave holding on southern plantation farms before the American Civil War.

Stop Human Trafficking

Jimmy Carter warns that prejudice, discrimination, violence, physical and mental abuse fall disproportionately on women and girls and that holds particularly true in the case of modern-day slavery. The solutions are multifaceted but one thing is clear: unless and until women stand up, organize and demand the stop of modern-day human trafficking, just a drop out of the immense billion dollar modern-day slavery profit bucket will be enough to entice otherwise good men to do nothing.

New Sheets From India

I know we all want to purchase products made in the USA but it is a next to an impossible challenge. I bought sheets at Macy’s today; top quality Macy’s brand (not Martha). As I unwrapped them and tried them on the beds to make sure they fit, I noticed that all three sets were made in India. One set I am returning; there was a handwritten note inside one of the fitted sheets that I could not figure out except the word Macy. It was dirty; looked like it had been used or someone who was working on it (maybe a child) had dirty hands. Obviously returning this set for a different one. I know why some people do not want to read, discuss,or otherwise be informed about where and by whom most of the products Americans purchase today come from; and the conditions where those children and women work. But I could not help but think about those sweatshops today. I would be willing to pay more for high quality products that are made in this country by workers that are fairly paid and are at least 18 years of age. It would make me sleep better at night.

Edith’s Challenge Not Unlike Many

Monday, February 10, 2014


I am tired of watching Edith of Downton Abbey ruin her life by one careless move after another. Edith will continue to struggle until she learns to live out her own quest plot. She needs to find some event to transform her life from waiting to be found by a man who will take care of her to doing something unconventional and new whether that is building homeless shelters, leading advocacy activities that push women’s rights, or obtaining a university education. It is not the nature of the event but the focus on performing, doing, challenging, dreaming or concocting her own “eccentric” story which is important. Edith’s life would change immediately if she molded relationships with exemplary women who use their life energy to make the world a better place. She has spent too much time sulking, crying, whining, and wasting time being a willing victim. She needs to do whatever it takes, no matter how unpleasant, to promote growth in herself. She needs to expect much more of herself and the gifts she already possesses. If I could sit across from Edith and share a cup of tea or a strong glass of Jamison whiskey, I would tell her it is time for her to live an authentic life, to build her own life purpose and to hold herself accountable. I would encourage her to see that it is she and she alone that has both the right and responsibility to build a whole life. For Edith, and for many girls and women, that means leaving boys and men alone until they learn to rely on themselves. Until they learn to do the hard thing, they can expect more of the same: being used by others.

The Pulse of Hillary Clinton

When Hillary Clinton was hospitalized for a blood clot inside her head caused by a fall, news media across the world covered the story around the clock. Many women stopped whatever they were doing and paused in disbelief. She had just recently made the news for being chosen as the most admired woman in the world for the 17th time surpassing other formidable women like Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher to name a few. Many of us have come to believe that Hillary would always be here and there working endlessly to protect democracy across the planet. We take for granted that her voice will continue to be heard in the darker parts of the earth that still exploit and brutalize girls and women. We continue to expect that she will advocate for basic human rights for girls and women and especially the right to education no matter which continent they happen to live upon. She seemed unstoppable.

As I followed the updates on Clinton with marked concern that she would be able to recover fully, I could not help but wonder what the nature of the deep connection to her was that so many of us experience. I have never met Mrs. Clinton and I don’t travel in the elite circle that has been her domain for decades.

I think what connects us to Hillary Clinton is that she has been a model on how to live a female life no matter how gifted, how challenged or ordinary that life can be at times. We have watched her handle gut wrenching personal crisis played out on an international stage. While many men and women criticized Hillary for not divorcing her husband during his most public infidelity, Hillary conducted her personal business privately. She taught us that the first step in a personal crisis of any kind is to focus inward and build your own strength. Rather than playing on an international divorce stage, Mrs. Clinton ran for the senate and won.

We have also learned from Hillary Clinton to reject perfection as a standard applied to women those in and out of the spotlight. While Hillary Clinton‘s job performance approval rating is still at an all-time high, higher than any man in national politics, what pundits want to talk about is how bad her hair looks or how tired she appears. What is notable is the response from Mrs. Clinton on those unflattering remarks: silence.

Perhaps the most important lesson Mrs. Clinton has taught us is the wisdom of investing in one’s own human capital and dignity and the strength of character to make one’s own choices. This is not to be confused with going it alone for anyone who has watched Hillary Clinton has learned that at the end of the day, the most important choice is to support and stand by other women both in their aspirations and in their major life challenges. We do need to continually build and rebuild a strong physical and emotional well being as we traverse the decades of our lives. The reality is that most women will live the last of their years on earth on their own.

The pulse of Hillary Clinton that resonates within me and within many women is to continue to learn from her as she navigates the rest of her stunningly accomplished life.

Why Write

Monday, October 28, 2013

I just returned home from a lunch meeting with a writer friend who has finished a young adult novel and is looking for a publisher. It is the story of a 16 year old who is dying of cancer. We talked about life and writing and accept that most people who know us think we are wasting our time. We smiled at each other and laughed as we acknowledged that we make excuses for not attending the endless list of lunch fund raisers and charity luncheons; instead we select three good causes we support and send in a check. That leaves us with plenty of time to struggle over our manuscripts, grow our gardens, take good care of ourselves and at the same time think about the next stage of our writing. We accept that we don’t fit in the women’s social groups. We have little to add to the conversation and no one knows what to say when they ask us why we spend so much time alone writing something that few will read and we answer: because we can.

Why the Interest in the Status of Girls and Women by the Republican Party?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why the Interest in the Status of Girls and Women by the Republican Party?

What is very apparent to me is the goal behind the anti-woman agenda in this country. Women are now the majority of college students and college graduates across the country. The more you educate a woman, the fewer children they have. College educated women pursue and attain jobs and positions once held by men only: and many men got the jobs they had and retained those jobs even when they performed mediocre because of the belief among many men that it is the natural right of a man to work.

Women historically, those educated and those not, support public schools and the value of providing the best and the most education for their children as possible. It is rare to find a mother who believes that a good education is not a highly held value of hers. The Republican agenda/Koch brothers etc. want a cheap and needy supply of workers to work their hotels, factories etc.; workers who they won’t offer benefits to, won’t provide health insurance or retirement. Their goal is see the best jobs going to men, whether these men are educated or not. The R agenda is to push women back inside the house, with no money of their own and barriers to birth control to increase the probability of producing more and more children to needier and needier women to be governed by a chauvinistic agenda that was the rule not the exception in this country and all over the world prior to 1960’s and beyond. After all, the R/Corporate agenda absolutely needs to insure that there are plenty of young 16 and over poorly educated and needy workers to make their greedy agenda work. They do not give one second of serious thought to the issues of women’s’ rights, health care for children and the elderly other than how they can make the most money and rob the American tax payer by billing them for unearned work (see last weeks 60 Minutes Show on the fraud of corporate for profit hospitals all across this country including the one where you live). The goal of the Republican party and US Corporations is to make the United States more similar to Mexico, Vietnam and China with respect to the power and greed of the very few at the expense of pain, quality education and freedom of girls and women.