Remembering Wendy

Friends and family reflect on the love and loss of Wendy Van Leuveren

Friends and family of Wendy Van Leuveren gathered for her memorial on Sept. 24. The downtown Galactic Center had its usual art covering the walls, but along with it were pictures and paintings of Wendy.

People mingled—catching up, offering condolence and sharing stories. Children ran about, among them Wendy's son 18-month-old Escher, who never strayed too far from his dad Cameron Green.

Everyone who knew Wendy remembers her as being kind, fearless and multi-talented. She loved biking, vintage clothing, electronic music, photography and getting to know what made people tick.

"She was just so hungry to learn and get other people's opinions about things," said friend Jody Walker. "I haven't met anybody else like her. I just remember always calling her magical Wendy."

Wendy moved to Tucson on a whim more than 13 years ago and fell in love with the desert town. She was active in the downtown art scene and supportive of events and individuals.

"She was someone who wasn't afraid to be a fan," said local artist Henry Barajas. "She was universally loved by a lot of people. She had a very considerable impact in her short time."

Most people who called Wendy a friend were shocked by the news of her suicide, at 37 years old, and events that preceded.

On May 19, the small family moved to Hilversum, Holland, where Wendy was born, after months of planning and anticipation. Just over three months later, having largely withdrawn from the Tucson community, they were on a trip in France when Wendy used Facebook to send out cries for help.

In the midnight hours following Aug. 30, they boarded a plane in Nice, France, to return to Holland when police took them off for questioning.

Wendy had sent out a number of alarming and confusing posts, saying she was not safe, that the airport security thought she was a terrorist and that her posts were not to be trusted without verification. Friends in the U.S. jumped into action and reached out to authorities in Nice.

After speaking with police for a half-hour, Wendy was unable to explain why she needed help, and they were allowed to leave.

This was the first public sign that Wendy may have been battling a mental illness. But for her and Green, it was one more event in an escalating nightmare.

Those in Tucson who knew Wendy well said she had a stalker who terrorized her for many years. Therefore, any fear she showed about being followed seemed legitimate.

"She was always so smart and fearless and put together," Green said. "She would always talk about everything very rationally, very clear headed. I never knew her to be scared of anything or anyone."

Only a few people suspected that Wendy struggled with an undiagnosed mental illness.

Marlies Zandbergen was a friend of Wendy for three years, and they talked about Wendy's irrational paranoia, Zandbergen said. Wendy was scared, and her friend encouraged her to seek help. Then Wendy stopped answering her phone.

"When things got stressful, she would turn into a hermit," Zandbergen said. "Part of her was really in denial that she needed help."

Once in Holland, Wendy continued to think she was being followed. She wanted to leave town for a break from her fears, and so she made a deal with Green: They would go to France, and if things didn't get better after the trip, Wendy would get help.

Things only got worse. In France, Wendy was afraid people everywhere were out to get her and that there were bombs on the trains and in the hotels. Green knew it was time to get her home and booked the earliest flight he could get.

Wendy was afraid to go to the airport, afraid to get on the plane, but Green convinced her she was safe. And then suddenly they were being asked to get off the plane because Wendy had posted for help, unknown to Green.

After speaking with police, they got a hotel room near the airport, and Wendy immediately told Green she had to leave. She said that she loved both of them very much, but they weren't safe if she stayed with them.

Hurrying to get their son dressed, Green ran after her, but she was gone. He reported her disappearance to police, who told him they couldn't do anything until she had been missing 48 hours. Rain and a tired baby forced him to halt his search for the night.

The next morning, he searched nearby hotels and sent out a post explaining the situation and asking for help. Wendy was almost out of money, isolated and scared, Green wrote. He reported her missing to a higher police division, who could search after 24 hours.

By that evening, he learned it was too late. Police came to his hotel and told him the events that had passed after Wendy had run out, the night before.

She had been walking the streets carrying a knife, and someone alerted police. When they arrived, police were able to subdue her and took her to a hospital where she was put on suicide watch. The next morning, she snuck out of her room and found her way to the roof.

People saw her, and when they tried to coax her down, she jumped. Police told Green that she died instantly.

Wendy had kept her struggles secret from most people, and many throughout the community share the same sentiment—they wish she would have told them.

Along with grief and shock, echoing throughout Tucson is the resounding memory of a woman full of life, who touched everyone she met.

Green and Escher moved back to Tucson and the community has embraced them, offering places to stay, baby sitting, free massages. People have offered to cover the costs of a funeral and flights for loved ones to come to the memorial. And while it has been hard taking care of Escher without Wendy, Green is grateful for the purpose and meaning it gives him.

Wendy was fearless; she was fiercely independent; she was the kind of woman who wasn't afraid to walk home alone late at night, Green said.

"She's kind of always had to take care of herself and really trust her own mind and instincts," he said, quoting a close friend of Wendy's. "And they've always served her really well, and when they turned against her, she followed them."