Seattle teen on trip with church is found dead

Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Aug. 30, 2002

A Seattle teenager on a church fund-raising mission was found dead yesterday near a Charlotte, N.C., apartment complex where she had been canvassing for money.

Police revealed few details about the death of Jin Joo Byrne, 18, who was last seen Wednesday afternoon when she and her Unification Church youth group partner split up to better solicit the Roseland Apartment complex on Pressley Road in the city’s southwest side.

The body of Jin Joo Byrne, 18, was found near apartments in Charlotte, N.C., where she had been raising money for the Unification Church.

Police are investigating the case as a homicide.

Pastor Gerhard Wiesinger of the Seattle Unification Church talked to and visited the Byrne family several times yesterday at their home in the Whittier Heights/Green Lake neighborhood.

“They’re shocked and saddened and still in disbelief,” he said. “We were still hoping for a miracle that it isn’t true. But it is true.”

The family, he said yesterday, was planning to leave Seattle for Charlotte.

“They’re grieving, they’re crying,” he said. “But they’re also asking God how they can turn this into something better or something good.”

According to police, Byrne and seven to 12 other church youths were selling costume jewelry as a fund-raising project for the Washington, D.C.-based church, founded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

The group planned to head into neighborhoods, divide into pairs and remain in communication with walkie-talkies.

On Wednesday afternoon, shortly before 5 p.m., Byrne and other church members arrived at the Roseland Apartments.

Byrne paired up with another church member, but at some point the two split up to work independently. The entire group planned to meet up again later in the evening.

Using the walkie-talkie, Byrne later called another member saying she was running a bit late for the rendezvous.

But the Summit School graduate never showed up.

Police began searching the complex late Wednesday night, and found her body yesterday near the apartments.

Charlotte-Mecklenberg police Capt. Mike Faulkenberg said he wasn’t prepared to release the cause of death or verify reports that police already had interviewed a suspect.

“We’ll know more” today, he said.

Investigators described the apartment complex as a place police visit regularly.

Donald Bramell, a caretaker with the church in Charlotte, said the local church was stunned by the turn of events.

“People in the neighborhood said she might have been kidnapped.”

Wiesinger said Jin Joo Byrne was the oldest of Martyn and Izabela Byrne’s four children — three sisters and one brother. Martyn Byrne works in the wholesale fish business.

In June, Jin Joo Byrne graduated from Summit School and she was one of three teens from the Seattle church to take part in the Unification Church’s national training program this summer.

Trainees attend seminars and workshops, travel around the country, spread the word, learn more about their faith and raise money, Wiesinger said.

The Rev. Phillip Schanker, vice president of the Unification Church, took a flight from Washington, D.C., to Charlotte last night.

“The kids are scared and concerned,” he said. “I want to do my best to comfort and support them.”
Schanker stressed that the summer program is not primarily a financial activity. Rather, it is an educational experience for young people to explore their faith, he said.

He had met Byrne for the first time at a workshop in New York two weeks ago. She participated in skits and songs.

“She was bright, expressive and loving toward others,” Schanker said.

“This girl, whatever your religion is, was trying to do something and express something good for other people. It’s an unspeakable tragedy for our nation that she would meet such a horrible end.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday August 30, 2002.
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