Just a week ago, the small tree at the corner of Pine Street and North Washington Avenue in Scranton, Pennsylvania, was unremarkable. But now—after the death of Tammy Fox, a local hero and mother of five—its bark has been shorn off, and it’s peppered with three dozen red roses, messages of love, and 15 balloons in a memorial for the woman who died at its base.
The 38-year-old, who helped expose Lackawanna County’s prison sex scandal—which involved more than 16 victims and at least 10 alleged perpetrators who worked as corrections officers and prison employees—died on Aug. 22. Her key testimony reportedly led to charges against three former prison guards who were arrested in February.
A civil lawsuit filed in April accused the prison facility of “unending sexual harassment and sexual assault of female inmates” and claimed the “highest-ranking officials” were aware of the scope of the abuse.
But Fox never completely broke free from that trauma, and it appears she may have died trying to escape a violent boyfriend’s domestic abuse.
Fox’s last text messages to her sister—before her brake lines were allegedly cut by her boyfriend, John Jenkins—showed she was growing afraid of the man she once called her “soulmate,” according to The Scranton Times-Tribune.
“I need to get out of this house,” she reportedly wrote to her older sister, Grace Onderdonk. “I hate his violent mean discusting [sic] mouth. I swear grace i feel ... trapped.”
Jenkins, 39, is reportedly being held without bail at a correctional facility after authorities charged him with criminal homicide. He allegedly admitted to cutting Fox’s brake lines to get a metal pipe to smoke crack cocaine, and police have said they found three of the car’s brake lines cut and a fourth that was crimped. He has also reportedly been charged with terroristic threats against his sister.
(According to a study published by the CDC last July, more than half of all murdered women in the U.S. are killed by domestic violence.)
Tammy’s other sister, Stephanie Fox, said she hoped her sister will be remembered for more than her brave testimony in the prison scandal as a sexual-assault survivor.
“She was very charismatic, very mesmerizing and very selfless,” Fox told the Times-Tribune. “I never met anyone so kind and caring. She was a wonderful mother, sister, friend ... She was truly one of a kind.”
“She mentored people and took them into her home,” Fox added. “She would be the first one to help a homeless person if she saw them on the street... That was the kind of person she was.”
“Tammy was a free spirit who lived life to the fullest and gave selflessly to those around her,” her obituary reads. “She is gone too soon, but made the world a better place.”