EXCLUSIVE: A life cut short: ‘They took her from four beautiful children’

cclick@thestate.comJuly 13, 2013 

  • Children’s Fund An account has been set up at First Citizens Bank to benefit the four children of murder victim Kelly Hunnewell of Columbia. To make a donation, send a check to:

    Kelly Hunnewell Survivor Trust

    c/o First Citizens Bank

    PO Box 520

    Hull, Ga. 30646

— Kelly Hunnewell was determined to build a good life for her kids.

The 33-year-old Columbia woman, shot to death as she worked alone in a hot bakery July 1, returned to her native South Carolina in late 2010 after separating from her husband, rented a little house in Eau Claire and worked in the pre-dawn hours in hopes of moving up in the business.

Hunnewell and her four children, ranging in age from 13 to 6, were well-known along their street – in part because she handed out fresh-baked cookies to kids.

In talking about her, everyone spoke of the children who surrounded her.

“Kids going to her house wouldn’t even knock,” said Joshua Perry, standing next door to the blue, vinyl-siding house on Pineneedle Road that Hunnewell rented in the spring. “If they lived around here, they knew her.”

The most distinctive feature of the house, where a porch light glowed Thursday afternoon, was a white cross painted atop the red-brick chimney.

Shontell Green, who lives across the street, said Hunnewell was driven to provide for her children. She described her neighbor as quiet and reserved, and said she almost certainly fought off her killers out of a love for her kids.

Police say two men pushed their way through a propped door where Hunnewell was working at 3 a.m. on Tommy Circle, off Beltline Boulevard near Two Notch Road. Two 18-year-olds with long criminal records are in custody, along with a juvenile whom police did not name.

Green said police arrived at her door at 7 a.m. that Monday and asked her to come across the street to be with the children. As they waited on relatives to arrive from Orangeburg, police had Green break the news of their mother’s death.

“That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Green said. “They took that lady’s life for nothing. They took her from four beautiful children who were just waiting for their mother to come home.”

On the days Hunnewell left for work about 2:40 a.m., she left her 13-year-old in charge, Green said. Sometimes, Green’s 18-year-old daughter would spend the night with the Hunnewell kids.

“They’d all help each other out. The oldest, she had to step up for her mom, because her mom had to go to work,” Green said.

This summer, Hunnewell would get home from work about 11:15 a.m., pack a picnic lunch and take the kids to the lake to swim, Green said.

She described a creative mom who made bracelets with her teenager and an animal lover who allowed the kids to take in stray kittens named Sparkle and Pebbles.

“She was the only white lady on this block, and she let those kids mingle and play. Those kids loved everybody on this block,” Green said. “She was safe here, because she knew the people she lived around. We’re just working-class Americans.”

Hunnewell split her work day between the off-site bakery and the Carolina Cafe & Catering Co., her employer, in downtown Columbia.

She had separated from her husband, a long-distance truck driver, and moved back home from Maine with her children, Amber Murdaugh, 13; Victor, 9; Cheyenne, 8; and Marie, 6.

Initially, she moved in with her sister, April Worthington, in Orangeburg, until she got on her feet and got the job at the cafe, where her mother had once worked.

“Sometimes it is sticky with family members, but I thought we would give it a try,” said cafe owner Lauren Schlueter. “She just caught on so quickly and did it exactly how she was supposed to do it.”

Hunnewell worked a flexible schedule that maximized time with her children, Schlueter said. She prepped food for the cafe’s bustling lunch crowd and baked several days a week at the Tommy Circle bakery. “We were very flexible with her because she gave so much and we wanted to give back."

Med Uddin didn’t know Hunnewell but was aware of her demanding work schedule: Their paths often crossed in the pre-dawn hours as he left work at the Ale House next door to the bakery. “I don’t know when she had time to sleep,” Uddin said.

She held a high school degree, from Orangeburg’s Edisto High School, yet hit it off with the college students who worked alongside her.

“We knew that she was kind of getting away from a situation she wasn’t happy in and kind of starting over," Schlueter said. “That is what is so tragic about this whole thing. This is someone who literally picked themselves up by their bootstraps and said, ‘I’m going to make a better life for myself and my children.’”

After she arrived in Columbia, Hunnewell shed about 100 pounds and adopted a healthy lifestyle that included regular exercise, said Melissa Beach, who is married to Hunnewell’s half-brother, Allen.

Kelly Hunnewell did not know Allen as she grew up, but was determined to get to know him once her mother, brothers and sister reconnected with him.

“The first day he met Kelly was on our wedding day,” said Beach, a consignment store owner in Hull, Ga., near Athens. “She was in Maine at the time with her husband. She drove 11 hours with four children in the car. They all spent the night with us on our wedding night. There were 22 people in the house.”

Beach said the extended family has taken in Hunnewell’s four children since their mother was killed, making sure they are well-cared for and getting the emotional support they need.

The children are living with Kelly’s sister, who has four children of her own. The cousins are close – they routinely spent summer weeks together – and live near their grandmother, Nancy Hunnewell, and an uncle.

“They’re a very kid-loving, kid-friendly family,” said Pastor Bob Ossewaarde, who officiated at Hunnewell’s funeral.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641 and Click at (803) 771-8386.

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