Ben Barnhard had reason to be optimistic this summer: The 13-year-old shed more than 100 pounds at a rigorous weight-loss academy, a proud achievement for a boy who had endured classmates’ taunts about his obesity and who had sought solace in the quiet of his bedroom, with his pet black cat and the intricate origami designs he created.
But one month before school was to start for the special-needs teen, his mother, psychiatrist Margaret Jensvold, shot him in the head, then killed herself. Officers found their bodies Aug. 2 in the bedrooms of their home in Kensington, Md., an upper-middle class Washington, D.C., suburb. They also found a note.
“School – can’t deal with school system,” the letter began, Jensvold’s sister, Susan Slaughter, told The Associated Press.
And later: “Debt is bleeding me. Strangled by debt.”
Although family members said they were stunned by the killings, they also said Jensvold had become increasingly strained by financial pressure and by anguished fights with the county public school system over the special-needs education of her son, who had an autism spectrum disorder. They said the school district – apparently believing it could adequately educate Ben – had refused to cover tuition costs for the boy to attend a private school for special-needs students. Jensvold didn’t have the money herself and didn’t want to return her son to public school, where relatives said she felt harshly judged and marginalized and where Ben had struggled.