I met Mariel in 1998 in the Dominican Republic. Mariel, her two sisters, and their mother were some of the first students in the English class I was teaching. They remained my students for the two years I taught English there. During that time I got to know Mariel and her family well. They were kind, caring, and fun. They looked out for me and helped me adjust to a different culture.
I took a teaching job at St. Croix Lutheran in Minnesota in 2000, and that same year Mariel received a scholarship to attend St. Croix Lutheran High School. I was her dorm supervisor and soccer coach and helped her get accustomed to life in the United States. I got to see her make her first snow angel and find out what the word ‘cold’ really meant – welcome to Minnesota! On some holidays, she would come with me to Wisconsin. My family got to know and love her also. She was a sweet, kind, and considerate girl who genuinely loved and trusted others.
We have stayed in touch since St. Croix – my husband and I went to her wedding, she and her family have visited us in Wisconsin, and we have stayed at her house with her family also. We have had many phone conversations concerning the joys and challenges of raising children and I have always been amazed at her positive attitude and patience. Our three children stayed with Mariel, Andy, and their children overnight a couple summers ago and had a wonderful time.
There is no doubt in my mind that Mariel is innocent. She is one of the most genuinely gentle, kind, and patient people I know. She would never intentionally harm anyone. If she ever did accidentally cause harm to someone she would not, and in fact she could not, lie about it or cover it up. She would be the first to tell exactly what happened and would hide nothing. I’ve known her nearly 20 years, and she has always been, and continues to be, a deeply honest person.
I have talked to Mariel quite a few times the past months and was at part of the trial. Through these very dark and painful times she has always kept her trust and hope in God, kept the baby who had the seizure and his family in her prayers, and continued to show her love and concern for those around her. Many of us have found that when we called to encourage her we ended up being encouraged by her. She is a beautiful person, inside and out, and I am proud to call her my friend.