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Body identified as area teacher

November 18, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

SANDY HOOK - The man found shot to death just off the towpath along Keep Tryst Road near Sandy Hook Friday was a fourth-grade teacher at a Jefferson County, W.Va., school.

Jeffrey L. Rowland, 43, of Charles Town, W.Va., was known for his thoughtfulness in dealing with students and other faculty members, school officials said Saturday.

Washington County Sheriff's Department Investigator Greg Alton said Rowland was the victim of a homicide and died from a gunshot wound to the neck.

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Alton did not release any additional details about the incident. The investigation is continuing.

Rowland's body was found by a jogger Friday morning just off the C&O Canal towpath at the Weverton access, which is near the parking area at the end of Keep Tryst Road in the Sandy Hook area. The path runs alongside of the Appalachian Trail.

Rowland had been a teacher at Wright Denny Intermediate Elementary School in Charles Town for 22 years. Wright Denny houses third- through fifth-graders and has a little more than 420 students.

"It was a real shock," Jefferson County Board of Education member Cheryl Huff said.

Huff said she found out about Rowland's death while she was visiting the school Friday and noticed teachers and staff members walking around "in a fog." She said she had planned to make a stop at Rowland's classroom at his request and show photographs to his students.

"Everything was just crazy," Huff said. "Everybody was kind of walking around in shock."

She said authorities with the Washington County Sheriff's Department were at the school checking Rowland's classroom for clues in the case.

Rowland's father told police his son never returned home from work Thursday night, Huff said.

Huff, whose daughter had Rowland as a fourth-grade teacher, said Rowland was reliable and loved his students.

"He loved the kids," Huff said. "He was very professional about doing his job. He was very responsible. He was always there."

School Principal William Willingham said he knew Rowland for about 22 years - since Rowland began teaching. He said Rowland loved to sing and used to be a member of his church's choir. He also said Rowland got along with his fellow teachers and was always considerate.

"He was a very good teacher," Willingham said. "He interacted with the faculty very well. It's going to be hard for our faculty not having him here."

Huff and Willingham said students had not been told about Rowland's death prior to the end of classes for the weekend. The school's Crisis Intervention Team will be available this week for children and faculty members who need help coping with the incident.

Willingham said the school will decide how to tell the students this week.

"I'm sure they're going to have a lot of questions, too," Huff said.

Dale Manuel, a fifth-grade teacher at Wright Denny, said Rowland was always going out of his way to make sure his students were happy and healthy and spent a lot of time with children with special needs.

Manuel, a teacher for 30 years, said he's known Rowland since he began teaching.

"He was an extraordinary teacher," Manuel said. "He was very concerned with the welfare of his students. He'd always go the extra mile. He was very popular with the children."

Manuel also said Rowland was committed to taking care of his parents, Francis and Violet Rowland, with whom he lived.

Rowland collected music and loved the group The Carpenters, Manuel said.

Teachers were shocked and upset when they learned what had happened to their fellow teacher, he said.

"We were absolutely shocked and upset about what's happened to one of our colleagues," Manuel said. "Jeff was the kind of person that would absolutely give you what he had if you asked for it and you needed it. He was a very caring individual ..."

Rowland was a member of Asbury United Methodist Church in Charles Town where he used to sing in the choir. He graduated from Shepherd College and was a member of the West Virginia Education Association.

He was an avid bowler on the Friday Night League at Shenandoah Lanes, a member of the Wright Denny Faculty Senate and a former instructor with Weight Watchers in Charles Town.

In addition to his parents, Rowland is survived by his sister, Faye Rodgers; her husband, Ronald; and his nephews, Scott and Kris, all of Bolivar, W.Va.

Rowland's family members could not be reached for comment Saturday.

"He was a great teacher, and he's going to be missed sorely," Huff said. "We hope whoever did this will be brought to justice."

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