Residents living next to Sterling Middle School, where the body of an 18-year-old woman was discovered early Wednesday, feel the area is unsafe and in need of more security.
Residents living next to Sterling Middle School, where the body of an 18-year-old woman was discovered early Wednesday, feel the area is unsafe and in need of more security. Jessica S. Wesson was found lying next to the building on the north side of the school, an area next to a large field and easily seen from Sterling Avenue. She suffered "trauma to her head and chest," police said Wednesday in a news release. "It scares me to death," said Jennifer Ryans, a mother of two teenage girls, 17 and 13, as she stood in her front yard on Westminster Avenue, across the street from the school, as she watched officers crowd around the body. "It makes me scared for my girls." A District 150 maintenance worker made the grisly discovery about 5:45 a.m., police said, as he made his morning rounds. Peoria County Coroner Johnna Ingersoll said Wesson’s body had been there for only a few hours before its discovery. Whether Wesson was killed at the scene or was dumped there was not being released. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday. Wesson, a recent graduate of Richwoods High School, lived with her foster mother, Maxine Jenkins. Friends and family gathered at the home Wednesday night, but declined to comment. Police worked most of Wednesday morning to identify the body. With no solid leads by noon, a news release was issued, requesting help from the public. Fingerprint analysis eventually helped authorities identify the body as that of Wesson, a ward of the state from Bloomington. Police said, though, she’d lived in Peoria for most of her life and was a habitual runaway. Wesson’s death is the city’s third homicide of the year. As of Wednesday night, police had no suspects or persons of interest in the case. The police presence at the school Wednesday, along with the barren basketball courts, reminded neighbors of the brutal beating less than two years ago that sent a shock wave through their usually quiet neighborhood . Shortly before 8 p.m. Sept. 8, 2006, the victim, 14 at the time and a student at the school, and several other juveniles had been playing basketball. As they were shooting baskets, three boys attacked the victim, knocking him to the ground where they kicked, punched him and stomped on his head. The victim, who spent three days in a coma and used a walker for three weeks, suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs and a head injury. His attackers, two 14 and one 15, were sentenced to juvenile prison, but have since been released from the Department of Juvenile Justice on parole. "I’m mad, sad. You name it," said Tom Schmitt, a father of seven, who has lived next to the school the last 28 years. "After the kid got beat up … it’s just getting out of hand." Another resident, who asked not to be named, said neighbors have said since the beating that the school should do something to amp up security on the property. "They need to put a light up," he said, adding simply removing the backboards and rims from the basketball courts is not going to eliminate problems. He called Wednesday’s homicide "unexpected." "This is going to take awhile to settle in," he said. "You think this happens in other people’s neighborhoods. Not yours." Debra Baker, who watches her grandchildren and several other children during the week at her daughter’s Westminster home, has never hesitated to let them play in the ball fields behind the school. "They’re not going over there anymore," Baker said. "That is so sad." Leslie Fark can be reached at (309) 686-3188 or email@example.com. Erinn Deshinsky contributed to this story.