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Tree grows for slain classmate

April 04, 1998

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jessica Newell's second-grade classmates planted a tree in her memory Friday, more than six months after she was found slain in a remote wooded area of North Mountain.

The 19 children looked solemn during the quiet ceremony for the 7-year-old Baker Heights girl who was taken from the parking lot of a Pikeside, W.Va., bowling alley on Sept. 18.

Her body was found two days later and her uncle, Michael A. Newell, was charged on Sept. 22 with kidnapping and murder. He is in the Eastern Regional Jail in Berkeley County awaiting trial.

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The classmates did not speak as Berkeley Heights Elementary School officials posed them with the tree for photographers.

Principal Steve Crowell said school officials are trying to help the children get over their classmate's death.

"This is the final way to heal this," Crowell said. "It was a tough year."

"It's meant a lot to the kids. This will be a nice tribute to her so they can remember her," said their teacher, Sally Hollida.

The idea for a tree planted in Jessica's memory came from Matthew Lowe of Potomac Farms Nursery.

The landscapers have been doing work at the school for the past week as part of a $7,500 project funded by donations and the Berk-Mar Garden Club, said Teresa Carper, vice president of the school's PTA.

Eventually the school plans to put a plaque up next to the tree to let people know that the tree was planted in Jessica's memory.

The zelkova tree should grow to about 60 to 80 feet tall, providing nice shade behind the school where it is planted, Lowe said.

The project continues next week on the 10 acres of school grounds in the south end of Martinsburg.

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