HEBRON, Maine — Four days after she last saw her granddaughter alive, Beverly Spofford sat in her tidy mobile home and offered a grim smile as she remembered her last interaction with Karen Wrentzel.
Wrentzel, 34, was still recovering from a September surgery related to a cervical cancer diagnosis, and had moved from Palermo to spend the winter with her grandmother in this quiet town 10 miles west of Lewiston.
While there, Wrentzel would heal herself, spend time with family and keep working on the 15 acres off Greenwood Mountain Road that her grandmother had given her.
The long-term goal: Wrentzel would build a back-to-the-woods cabin or cottage that would be nestled in the forest she loved. She’d plant a garden, and live there in the trees, at one with nature.
She never got the chance.
“[Karen] and I got up and had coffee, sat up at the table and talked for awhile,” said the 76-year-old Spofford. “And then, when she went down — she goes down through the woods there — she had a Mason jar full of coffee, and I said, ‘Take a banana.’ She goes, ‘All right, I’ll take one.’”
Then Wrentzel headed for the door.
“She said, ‘Don’t worry about me. I won’t be back until it gets dark. I like to see the sun setting through the trees,’” Spofford said.
Spofford paused, and shook her head. When she continued, her voice was a whisper.
“She didn’t come back.”
According to the Maine Warden Service, Wrentzel was shot and killed by a hunter at about 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28. A 38-year-old man from Hebron, who was hunting with his father, is suspected of having fired the fatal shot. The shooting is still under investigation, and on Wednesday, a warden was back at the scene with technical equipment, mapping the property. Wardens met with the Maine attorney general’s office on Thursday, and a decision on any charges may be made public early next week, Maine Warden Service spokesman Cpl. John MacDonald said.
According to Jon Spofford, Beverly Spofford’s son and Wrentzel’s uncle, Wrentzel was about 200 yards off Greenwood Mountain Road when she was shot.
Both Spoffords said they’re unwilling to talk about her shooting after the Maine Warden Service told them it could jeopardize possible prosecution.
Jon Spofford said he and family members are struggling to deal with the tragedy.
“Obviously there’s some anger. She wasn’t doing anything. She wouldn’t hurt a soul,” he said. “She wasn’t doing anything she shouldn’t have been doing. She owned the property. She was out digging for rocks, which was perfectly within her rights, as a landowner especially.”
Wrentzel was not wearing hunter orange clothing, according to three sources with knowledge of the investigation who were not authorized to speak about it. But hunter orange laws only apply to hunters, not to others in the woods.
“As far as what she may have been wearing that particular day, she’s under no obligation as a landowner to have to wear anything,” said Jon Spofford, who also said family members had spent some time reading through hunting laws on Wednesday.
“We were looking them up today. You need to see the head of the animal and the torso,” Jon Spofford said. “So yeah, there’s a certain amount of anger. The man did not intend to shoot Karen. But he definitely made a reckless shot, and it ended tragically.”
Jon Spofford said his niece had a special fondness for the outdoors, and spent hours working clearing the land her grandmother had given her.
“Anybody that ever walks down there, every tree that you see cut down there, every little pile of everything, she did that entirely by herself,” Jon Spofford said. “I brought an excavator in there one time for maybe a half an hour to pop a few stumps for her. But she’d use her car to hook up to some of those trees and drag ‘em out.”
Beverly Spofford said that as she grew older, she knew she wanted Wrentzel to have the land to fulfill her dreams.
“I wanted to start giving things away, because I’m getting old,” she said. “I want the land to stay in the family. She wanted the land. To me, it’s not the best piece of land, but it’s all I had.”
Beverly Spofford moved to the parcel in 1995, after a divorce. And she was happy that her granddaughter appreciated it, hills, rocks and all.
A note that family members found in Wrentzel’s belongings after her death showed that she’d been thinking about her own mortality, and planning for any outcome.
Instead of flowers, Wrentzel wrote that she wanted people to plant trees in her honor. Oak, maple, birch, willow and ash were some of her favorites.
“I would love for each person who loved me to plant a tree and tend it and love it, and for whomever loved me the most to plant a pine or oak with my ashes, in a place I love, with a small [plaque] preventing it from being cut down,” she wrote.
And as for a service, Wrentzel made a specific request.
“Outside, [wherever] my tree is to be planted, I would like those who care to, who believe, to light a candle in thoughts of me, and pray that my soul has no trouble getting where it is supposed to go,” she wrote.
The note was what she’d have expected of her granddaughter, Beverly Spofford said.
“She was just a kind, loving, very sweet girl that wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she said. “People would say things and hurt her, and she’d never retaliate. She just took it inside and left it there. Or she’d write it in a book.”
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