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'Forever young'
Family remembers 20-year-old in suspicious death as spontaneous, happy-go-lucky

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 23, 2012

As Chauna Gruben finished her Mother's Day dinner with her family she was greeted with a horrifying surprise: news that her 20-year-old daughter had died early that morning.

NNSL photo/graphic

Jessica Marie Jerome, 20, died in a cabin outside of Yellowknife on Highway 3, May 13. The death is considered suspicious primarily because police are unsure yet how Jerome died. Jerome's family say they will remember her for the happy-go-lucky, independent and warm young woman she was. - photo courtesy of Facebook

"I was so sick to my stomach," Gruben said, remembering the moment she got the call. "It broke my heart."

Jessica Marie Jerome died in a cabin outside of Yellowknife on Highway 3, May 13. Police were called to the scene around 12:30 p.m. The death is being considered suspicious as police are unsure yet how Jerome died.

Gruben said on the morning of her death Jerome went duck hunting with her friend. Afterwards they headed back to the cabin, which belongs to the friend, and took a nap. But Jerome never woke.

The night before the girls had drunk only a few coolers and a mickey of alcohol, Gruben said, adding the circumstances around Jerome's death have raised a few questions for her.

"She had her whole life ahead of her," Gruben said. "Forever young, in my heart that's how I'll remember her."

On May 10, Jerome was picked up by police and put into the drunk tank after another girl started a fight with her, according to her family. The incident left Jerome with bruises on her face.

Gruben said she doesn't like to dwell on why her daughter died but at times she wonders if, as a result of the fight, Jerome was bleeding internally.

"In the back of my mind it's there," she said. "I just don't want to think of the worst."

The coroner's office hasn't yet received the results of the autopsy and toxicology reports for Jerome. Deputy chief coroner Tamara Hynd said it typically takes four to six weeks for those results to come back.

No matter how Jerome died, her family said they will remember her as she was: happy-go-lucky, spontaneous, warm and independent.

"She was a very special person. She touched a lot of hearts," Gruben said. "Every night I pray for Jessica, I pray for strength and I pray for guidance."

Although Gruben, who lives in Wetaskiwin, Alta., and Jerome had a good relationship she did not bring her child up, as she was just 15 years old when she had her. At the time Jerome's father was 21 years old.

Knowing she was too young to raise her, Gruben gave her daughter to Lucy and Abe Koe, the parents of Jerome's father. Jerome was close with her grandmother and step-grandfather and she often used their last name as her own.

Lucy Koe said she misses her granddaughter every minute of every day.

"She was always dancing around the house and laughing ... I never saw her mad. She was a happy girl," Koe said, adding she loved the land and the animals on it.

"She loved bush life, she loved riding the Ski-Doos and all that."

Jerome grew up in Whitehorse but moved to many places when she was young, including Inuvik, and Dawson Creek, B.C. She was living with her grandparents in Yellowknife at the time of her death.

Gruben said at one point her daughter had "veered off on the wrong path" but she had recently started to get her act together again and had enrolled in the Route 51 Learning Institute, an alternative school offering high school credit courses.

"Her life was just cut too short," Gruben said.

A funeral was held for Jerome last week at St. Patrick's Church. Gruben said she was touched by how many people stopped by to show their love. She said her and her family are so thankful for all the support the community has given them.

"There were a lot of people who cared for her," Gruben said. "She was a very beautiful person."

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