Polaneczky: Montco moms step up to honor brutalized girl

Sara Packer, the adoptive mother of rape-murder victim Grace Packer, with handcuffs on her wrists, is put into a Pennsylvania Constable vehicle after her arraignment at District Court in Newtown, Pa., on Sunday, Jan. 8, 2016.

Grace Packer deserved a mom who loved her, worried about her, and protected her.

Instead, she got Sara Packer, a ham-faced monster who adopted her as a baby and, authorities say, enthusiastically assisted with her rape, torture, murder, and dismemberment.

On Monday, five tender-hearted Montgomery County moms - the kind Grace deserved - will pour all of their maternal love into a memorial service they're organizing for her.

They didn't know Grace. But they've already shed more tears for her and shown her more compassion than Grace knew from her adoptive mother and Jacob Sullivan. He's the animal who cops say plotted for a year with Sara Packer to debase and kill Grace in an abominable rape-and-murder fantasy.

"She was adopted, supposedly to give her a better life," says a choked-up Andrea Green-Adams, who first had the idea to hold a service for the girl. "I am finding it very hard to come to grips with it."

Me, I can't get past Grace's age.

It's hard to think of anything more intriguing, frightening, thrilling, and confusing than being a 14-year-old girl. Her body is changing. She has begun daydreaming about romantic relationships. She thinks a lot about her hair and clothes and fitting in. She wants the cool kids to like her and the cute ones to smile at her.

And she really, really needs a mom to have her back, because the world can be more menacing than she can understand at 14. It's impossible to imagine the terror Grace must have felt when Mama Packer brought the devil right to her.

Green-Adams had been worried about Grace since last July, when she heard that Grace had gone missing. Green-Adams lives in Abington Township, where Grace lived and attended school. Yet no one from the Packer family had issued panicked pleas for the public's help.

Then Grace's remains were found on Halloween by hunters in a remote section of Luzerne County. Sara Packer was charged on Dec. 22 with child endangerment and obstruction of justice. After Sullivan's confession, the charges were upgraded to include rape and murder.

Green-Adams hated that Grace's life was recalled only in detailed accounts of her grisly death. She thought the public should focus on the child who had been here instead of on those who thought her absence wouldn't matter to anyone.

So she created a Facebook page, "In Memory of Grace Packer," and announced she would host a memorial for her.

It would be called "Abington Loves Grace."

Within nanoseconds, offers to help stacked up beneath Green-Adams' post. A core of organizers from the Abington area soon emerged: Green-Adams, plus local mothers Nadine Bennett, Jackie Schwanbeck, Jen Meixsell, and Jackie Horst.

All are working moms, busy with their own jobs and family obligations. Green-Adams' schedule is especially crammed. Her son, Juwan, 14, has Hodgkins lymphoma and is undergoing a second course of chemotherapy and radiation after the failure of his first round of treatment.

But Juwan's illness actually spurred her to honor Grace.

"I am doing everything in my power to save my child's life," she says. "To know that someone else had such disregard for a child who could have had a future, it made me so angry and sad."

Jackie Schwanbeck wanted to be a voice for Grace.

"It's not normal for a child to go missing for that long and for a family not to do anything to find her," says Schwanbeck. "If that were my child, I would've been on every news channel, screaming, and putting posters on every pole and window in the community."

Jackie Horst wanted the service to honor the girl who had been so good to her autistic son, Bobby, who got to know Grace last January. Both teens had special educational needs, rode the same school bus, sat at the same lunch table, and were wild about each other.

"He talked about Grace all the time. He always said how pretty and nice she was," says Horst. "He bought her flowers and a stuffed animal. She wrote him notes and said he was handsome. My son is socially awkward, so for him to click with her was a big thing."

The two lost touch at the end of the school year, because Sara Packer planned to move from Abington Township to Quakertown. Bobby promised to join Facebook to stay in touch.

Now he must deal with his sweet friend's passing. Thank God, he does not understand the details of how she died nor what she endured beforehand.

Says Horst emotionally, "It's awful."

Green-Adams created a gofundme campaign to pay for the service and a community forum right afterward, where experts will help adults learn how to recognize and responsibly report suspected abuse. As I write this, the campaign is pushing $7,000 - double its $3,500 goal. The moms will use the leftover funds to establish a scholarship in Grace's name to support a special-needs student at Abington High School.

In time, the world may forget Grace. But the moms are convinced that Grace will not forget them. They're seeing signs everywhere that she's with them.

A cardinal lingering too long outside a window. A sunset in magnificent purple, Grace's favorite color. A passing van painted with butterflies, which Grace loved.

"It's the craziest thing," says Schwanbeck. "In little ways, she's letting us know she's here."

polaner@phillynews.com

215-854-2217 @RonniePhilly

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"Abington Loves Grace" will be held Monday, Jan. 16 at 1:30 p.m. at New Life Church, 467 N. Easton Rd., Glenside. A community forum will follow at the North Hills VFW, 2519 Jenkintown Rd., Glenside.

To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/3595tew.

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