RIDINGER LAKE — The Doggendorfs, Jason and Linbeth draw on daughters Tiana, 12, and Dreama, 10 for strength.
They are also buoyed by the support of their inner circle of friends and family as they struggle each day to honor the life of their murdered daughter while awaiting, with dread, the trial of her accused killer.
Jason and Linbeth were surrounded by friends in March when police told them the dreaded news — their eldest daughter, 14-year-old Kaylin, was found murdered across the county line in Kosciusko County.
“We have a tremendous amount of community and family and friends that are supporting us and understand,” said Linbeth through tears.
“A lot of them, their daughters were like sisters to her. We’re working on setting up a little club called Club Kaylin.”
The victim was an 8th-grader at Whitko Middle School.
Her disappearance, followed closely by the announcement that she’d been raped and murdered, rippled through the school like a tsunami, wreaking havoc with the fragile emotions of a shocked student body.
“The fact that she was missing first, there was kind of that anticipatory feel to the whole situation,” remembers Jerry Klausing, Whitko Middle School Principal.
“So we moved into it gradually instead of finding out right away that she’d been murdered.”
Klausing said when all hope faded with the announcement that Kaylin’s body had been discovered, “it was somber here, disheartening and a huge letdown.”
According to Linbeth, the ripple effect that began in March with Kaylin’s murder has moved up to Whitko High School, where the victim would have been a freshman this past fall.
“Just by talking to parents and some of the girls, they’re having an awful time up at the high school,” said Linbeth, adding that she thought the middle school’s handling of the tragedy when it happened was spot-on.
“The middle school has done a tremendous job of supporting us and the kids and squashing any situation that comes up,” she said, pointing out that Kaylin’s sisters have had some emotional difficulties dealing with the death.
“I’m so grateful for what they’re doing to help.”
Klausing said when Kaylin went missing, the feeling of dread was stronger in the minds of the staff and faculty.
“I think the adults here had a more realistic idea of how it would turn out because adolescent children always tend to have this idea that they’re bulletproof and when the reality hits that this 14-, 15-year-old friend was taken off the face of the earth, it’s shocking to them,” he said.
During the first school day following word of Kaylin’s death, Klausing said the school “had a full contingent of counselors here that day.”
For parents who lose a young child, grief cannot be overcome without the tools of healing, and the Doggendorfs say those tools come in all forms.
“The biggest driving force is the other two kids,” said Jason.
The couple also hold dear to those memories of a child that was described by many as mature beyond her years while remaining a “typical teenager.”
“Actually, we’d been fighting with her that day, but nothing major,” Linbeth said.
“She had wanted to ride her bicycle to a friend’s house and it was five miles away and we were like ‘that’s a little far to ride your bike on a school day. So let’s wait until the weekend and see how long it takes.’
“She was mad at us, but the last time I saw her, she had come up to do her chores, her laundry, and was putting the laundry in the dryer and I said good night to her.”
Although the final hours the Doggendorfs spent with their daughter were overshadowed by typical parent-teenager friction, Linbeth said the weeks and months leading up to her death seemed to be full of special moments that, even today, provide yet another “healing tool.”
“The previous month or so she’d gotten to do some overnights that she normally wouldn’t do,” said Linbeth.
“She’d gotten to visit people in the family and it was almost like she got to say goodbye to a lot of people in her life.”
Not long before her death, Kaylin and her mother burned the midnight oil, on a school night, no less, talking about a myriad of subjects.
“I knew it was a school night, but we stayed up late,” Linbeth remembered with a smile. “She got to talking about things like what kind of music she liked to listen to and things like that and when your 14-year-old daughter is in the mood to talk it’s hard not to.”
One ritual the two shared was shopping at Wal-Marts both in Warsaw and Columbia City.
“The Wal-Mart trips were pretty hard at first (after Kaylin’s death),” Linbeth said.
If Tiana and Dreama top the list of Jason and Linbeth’s most helpful tools for overcoming personal tragedy, how they parent their two surviving daughters is certainly located in the same drawer of their massive “healing tool box.”
“There are times when you get to thinking, ‘is there anything we could have done differently?’” said Jason.
“But smothering them, in my opinion, is what could drive them to run away.”
“I’m not as worried about them as much during the day as I would have expected to be,” said Linbeth, “but at night, I am really paranoid about where they’re at and who they’re with and what they’re doing.”
If the Doggendorfs can offer any advice to parents, they said it would be to always live in the moment with your children, not forgetting to let them know how you feel.
“You don’t realize how much they’re loved until they’re gone,” said Linbeth.
And while they endeavor each day to do their best with Tiana and Dreama, they take solace in the knowledge that their daughter left an indelible impression with everyone she encountered.
“She seemed like a very wholesome young lady to me,” said Klausing.
“She was becoming this amazing young woman that we were so proud of,” said Linbeth.