Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A memorial to James S. Miller stood in the lobby of the Goshen College Science building last year after Miller was killed in his home. Miller was a biology teacher at the college. (AP)
A tremendous sense of loss a year after professor’s death

Posted on Oct. 7, 2012 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 7, 2012 at 9:23 a.m.

GOSHEN — One year later, strong feelings remain and the sense of reality ebbs and flows in a community still dealing with the murder of James Miller.

Miller, a professor of biology at Goshen College, was killed early Oct. 9, 2011, during a home invasion at his 1736 Wildwood Court residence. Miller’s wife, Linda, was seriously injured in the attack but has since recovered physically.

As far as the investigation goes, progress is slow, but police continue to push forward in the case.

According to a release from the Goshen Police Department, the Indiana State Police Laboratory is still processing evidence collected from the scene.

“The search for DNA must be done meticulously,” the release explained. “Given the tremendous amount of evidence to inspect and test, it seems painfully slow to those of us waiting on the results.”

The release also stated that tips continue to filter in through Crime Stoppers and the department continues to investigate them.

But while the police continue their investigation, the painful memories and questions return to the forefront of the minds of those closest to Miller. And healing hasn’t always been so easy.

“This last year has just been plain hard,” Linda Miller said. “There’s a tremendous sense of loss.”

Though her physical injuries have healed, the pain of losing her husband, and the father of their children, doesn’t go away.

“Your heart aches,” she added.

Support has poured in, including cards, gifts and especially prayer.

“We know people have been praying because our lives are different,” Linda Miller said.

She added that police continue to keep her updated on the investigation and she hopes that the attacker will soon be caught. “I think it would bring some closure to a painful situation,” she said.

Despite the enormous loss she suffered, Linda Miller gains strength from a deep-seeded faith in God.

“We have trusted God to carry us through, and he has. In many ways I’m at rest because I know when Jim was dying, God was with him.”

And though she thinks there is little potential for something good to take from the tragedy, she hopes she can get there one day.

Healing has also been a long road for the Goshen College community, where Miller had been a professor since 1980.

Because Miller’s murder came in the midst of the school year, it was difficult to find time to properly reflect on the feelings people had. “We tried to create space for mourning but it may not have been enough,” said Ryan Sensenig, associate professor of biology and environmental science at Goshen College.

For Sensenig, who worked with Miller for five years, that space was found in the spring and summer, when educational obligations were their lightest.

But while Sensenig says it’s easier now to talk about and celebrate Miller’s life and work, the magnitude and weight of the tragedy remain.

Faculty and students are still working through the feelings of losing a teacher and colleague, but Sensenig said the community’s response has been instrumental in his healing journey.

“Life has so many paradoxes. One of those paradoxes is that light is brightest in darkness,” Sensenig explained. “I was floored and awed by people’s compassion.”

The college had filled the hole left by Miller’s death with an emergency professor to complete the fall semester and then had an adjunct professor close out the 2012 school year.

In July, the college hired Dr. Kris Schmidt as a full-time professor to take over Miller’s classes.

Sensenig noted that Schmidt has large shoes to fill, but that he is equipped for the job. “Kris is someone Jim would be pleased with,” he said. Sensenig said that much like Miller, Schmidt has high expectations for his students and a passion for research.

Some things, however, can’t be replaced. When asked what he remembered best about Miller, Sensenig smiled and began talking about his colleague’s inquisitive nature and his penchant for spreading it through the department.

“Jim personified this chronic optimism of life and he had his own way of exemplifying it,” he observed. Sensenig explained that people have different methods and tools at their disposal to do what they can to make the world a better place. “Jim’s tools were data and spreadsheets,” he conluded.

“I would hear the little pitter-patter of his steps coming down the hall and think, ‘I wonder what Jim has for me today,’” he said with a laugh.

“Healing is not a smooth journey,” Sensenig said. “It can still be tough. The reality of it kind of comes and goes.”