Maren and Tina: Gone Too Soon
Tina Livernash Heins
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.