A year after her disappearance and death, vigil remembers Joanne Ringer's life
HATFIELD — Joanne "Jo" Ringer only lived in Pelham for a short time, but that was long enough to make a favorable impression on her neighbor.
"She meant a lot to me," said Shauna Gamache, who recalls Ringer providing her help anytime she needed it and entertaining her children.
"Jo was a very fun, spirited and spontaneous woman who could make a rock smile," Gamache said. "She had so much energy that she exuded to everyone."
Gamache was among well over 100 friends and family, most from western Massachusetts, who gathered Sunday evening at the American Legion Post 344 on Prospect Street to both honor Ringer's memory and continue to fight for justice on her behalf in what organizers were calling a public memorial for Jo Ringer.
Just days before the event, which was scheduled weeks ago to mark the one-year anniversary of her March 2, 2017, disappearance, human remains, coincidentally found in the woods of Hatfield, were identified as Ringer's.
Ringer had left her Clarksburg home to start her first shift at an Easthampton taxi company, but never arrived for the job and was never heard from again. Her husband, Charles "Chad" M. Reidy of Clarksburg, committed suicide April 7. He was considered by the Berkshire district attorney's office to be the sole suspect in her death.
"We promised her we would bring her home, and we brought her home," said Jennifer Sokolowski of Easthampton, a lifelong friend who said she always referred to Ringer as "my wildflower."
"This is amazing how everyone's here for Jo and Jo only, really," Sokolowski said.
The already planned vigil may have brought more people, said close friend Ginger Plantier of Hatfield, because knowing Ringer is gone brings closure for her friends and family. As she wiped away tears, Plantier described the past week as "numbing."
Many of those who came wore purple T-shirts, with "Justice for Jo" and "Bring Jo Ringer Home We Will Never Forget," written on the front and back. Others wore her favorite colors, black, silver and purple.
Teigh Brown of Chicopee, who knew Ringer for 30 years, was at the table where the T-shirts, cookies and cupcakes were being sold.
"A lot of people have been touched by Jo, which shows what a beautiful person Jo is to bring so many people together," Brown said, adding that he was amazed by the turnout after a week in which he said he and others went through a "rollercoaster of emotions."
Brown said sales will help fund more events to recognize Ringer, as well as to cover some of the cost of funeral arrangements.
Inside the Legion hall, a display of photos of Ringer was placed in one corner, with DJ Nick Tanguay playing her favorite music. Others sat at tables where they decorated Chinese paper lanterns, writing tributes and thoughts about Ringer.
"She loved a lot of people, and a lot of people loved her," Plantier said.
Gamache, for instance, wrote "Wubs you Jo," a spoken expression of love she would often tell Ringer.
In a field across the street from the hall, attendees lit candles and children were given sparklers as specks of snow fell.
There, speaking on a loudspeaker, her daughter, Savanah Ringer, accompanied by Jo Ringer's two English mastiffs, thanked those who came to remember her mother.
"It still hurts to know she will never walk through the door again," Savanah Ringer said.
Ringer also made a plea for action.
"Now what we've got to do is get justice for Jo," Ringer said.
Part of the justice Savanah Ringer will seek is to help others who are in violent domestic relationships, with Brown describing domestic violence as the enemy.
To that end, Safe Passage representatives including Executive Director Marianne Winters, were on hand to provide information and resources.
Winters said people should remember Jo Ringer's life and help to end interpersonal violence, that the task is to deepen bonds of love and connection.
"I hope that you find strength to reach out to each other and refuse the temptation of isolation," Winters said.
Jo Ringer's friends and family will again sponsor a team in the Hot Chocolate Run in December, Team Jo, and encouraged people to sign up for it.
Sokolowski said she and others still have questions about what happened and that, even though Reidy is dead, it doesn't mean Ringer's death is solved.
"Just because he's gone, it's not over," Sokolowski said.
Maurice Champagne of Easthampton said Jo Ringer was a very good friend.
"We love and miss Jo very much," Champagne said
Scott Merzbach can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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