New Mexico shooting victims mourned by their children, 64 grandchildren
May 27, 2023, 1:04 AM | Updated: 4:56 am
(Sheldon Pickering via AP)
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gwendolyn Dean Schofield hoped to live to 100, and she was nearly there.
But on May 15, in what appeared to be a final act of kindness, Schofield and her daughter pulled over on a residential street in the northwestern New Mexico city of Farmington to help a woman who was shot at random, and they, too, were hit by gunfire and died.
“I guarantee they would have stopped in that situation 10 out of 10 times,” said Dallin Dean, Schofield’s grandson.
Schofield, who grew up in the Great Depression and became a teacher during World War II, was a month shy of her 98th birthday. Daughter Melodie Ivie, who ran a preschool with the catchy name “Ivie League,” was 73. The woman they stopped to help, Shirley Voita, was a 79-year-old retired school nurse and regular at morning Mass who volunteered to help people file their taxes.
Each of the women led active professional and civic lives, centered around their families and faith, leaving indelible marks on a city of 50,000 near the point where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet.
Altogether they had 64 grandchildren.
They were laid to rest this week during two days of memorial services in a community still grieving from the impacts of a rampage by an 18-year-old on the eve of his high school graduation that left six others wounded, including two police officers. Officers shot and killed the gunman.
At a joint memorial service Thursday for Schofield and Ivie, Dean looked out into the crowd and told them his aunt and grandmother would have been the first to forgive the gunman had they survived.
Schofield began teaching in the remote lakeside town of Valier, Montana, amid a shortage of teachers during World War II. There she met her first husband, Raymond Dean, a crop-duster pilot. They married in 1946 and had four children.
Schofield moved on to other teaching jobs, gravitating to small towns in Wyoming and Idaho before settling in Farmington to be closer to her family after Raymond Dean died in the 1990s. She remarried but became a widow again 20 years later in 2020.
Dean said his grandmother — affectionately referred to as “Grandma Dean” by her 26 grandchildren — was self-reliant. She loved gardening and growing her own food and always kept a stockpile of canned goods.
At 97, Dean said, his grandmother remained vibrant. Relatives at the memorial service said Schofield did so by living with a “loving mind devoid of anger and criticism” and a “forgiving heart.”
Dean said his family had already been talking about her 100th birthday party before the shooting.
Ivie followed in her mother’s footsteps as an educator. For decades, “Mrs. Ivie” welcomed hundreds of Farmington children into her home, where she ran the Ivie League preschool and prepared generations of kids for kindergarten.
Neighbor Sheldon Pickering, 42, said he grew up a few houses from the Ivie family home and was there often, playing the piano for Ivie whenever she asked to hear a song.
“She really made you feel like part of the family,” Pickering said.
When Pickering became a parent, he enrolled his daughter and son at the Ivie League preschool, where they learned to tie shoes and count, and where Ivie taught Pickering countless lessons that he says changed the way he views parenthood.
On one occasion, Pickering recalled feeling embarrassed after buying his daughter a pack of gum and sending her to school, where gum was forbidden. When Pickering apologized, saying he should have said no when his daughter asked for the candy, Ivie reassured him that a parent should say yes to the little things.
“That’s what your kids will remember,” Pickering remembered Ivie saying. “So say yes to the little things when you can.”
Ivie and her husband, Dennis, raised their eight children in Farmington.
Later in life, the couple served as senior missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ghana and offered to support students afterward, relatives said. Ivie’s husband died last year.
Ivie and Schofield had grown especially close in recent years after Ivie moved her mother into her home, Dean said.
On the morning of the shooting, they drove together to pick up one of Ivie’s grandchildren from school, Dean said. They never arrived.
Police have said the gunman did not appear to be targeting anyone. Rather, he shot indiscriminately from outside his home before walking around the neighborhood, perforating cars and houses using three different guns. Video recently released by police included a voice authorities believed to be the shooter urging police to kill him.
On Friday, police released a new trove of body and dash camera videos that paint a vivid picture of the shooting. Authorities also provided audio recordings from hundreds of frantic calls to emergency dispatchers by witnesses to the rampage and its aftermath, including a call from one of Voita’s daughters.
Voita, who was hit by gunfire while in her car, started the day with morning Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, part of a routine involving a deep commitment to faith and community service, friends and acquaintances said.
Her memorial service was held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where she had been a member for nearly 50 years. Relatives of Ivie and Schofield were among those who gathered to remember her.
Voita and her husband of 57 years had five children, including the current elected tax assessor for San Juan County, 14 grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
Mary Johnson, a friend of Voita’s for 25 years through community service events and prayer groups, said Voita “did everything she could to help people.”
That included volunteering at a senior center to help residents file taxes and participating in anti-abortion marches. She also enjoyed skiing, tennis, pickleball and trips to Vallecito Lake in Colorado.
Voita talked with ease about mortality and redemption, Johnson said.
“She just always expressed her love for Jesus and how we all really need to be ready, all the time, that you never know when our time is coming,” Johnson said.
Yamat reported from Las Vegas.