Julia Stewart wound her car up the parking garage at Main + Stone Apartments, a new urban mixed-use community along North Main Street in Greenville where she lives, when she heard a pop.
Her car’s air conditioning was on full-blast in the late afternoon of summer swelter so she wasn’t sure what she heard. She turned her A/C down as she saw a distraught woman dressed in black walk briskly from the open driver’s side door of a white car parked in a space on the garage’s third floor and toward a black SUV.
Stewart swung her car around the fourth floor deck and pulled up behind the white vehicle, its driver’s side door open, feet dangling out. She rolled down her window and called out.
“Ma’am, are you okay?”
There was no response.
Stewart got out and walked over to the car. She saw a woman, later identified as Meredith Leigh Rahme, 28, sprawled across the driver’s seat and center console of the vehicle.
Stewart jumped in her car and parked it, knowing emergency vehicles would need a place to pull into the garage, and she yelled for a man who was getting out of another parked car to call 911.
Stewart, who told The Greenville News she is licensed as an advanced emergency medical technician, said the woman was unresponsive but she felt a faint pulse in her arm. As she and the other witness considered placing her on the ground to start CPR, police arrived, at 5:07 p.m.
A bearded man who Stewart said she’d seen at the complex before, rushed from the third floor apartments toward the vehicle. He looked shocked, she said, and he moaned and cried out before officers led him away from the vehicle.
A few minutes later, a white sheet covered Rahme’s body.
She was pronounced dead at 5:40 p.m.
A frantic search
Police jumped into action. Within minutes, they’d taken witness statements and knew they were looking for 36-year-old Jessica Leigh Edens, who Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller later said had fled the scene in a black Jeep SUV with two children inside.
Police released word to the public to be on the lookout for the Jeep. They even gave a license plate number.
Seven miles away, WYFF news photographer John Hendon said he spotted a black SUV at 6:45 p.m., Thursday on his way home from work. It was parked by the back gate of the Greenville-Pickens Speedway just off State 124.
An hour later, the place swarmed with patrol vehicles and unmarked police cars. A fire truck blocked off the entrance as deputies stood by in orange traffic vests.
The crime scene was "graphic and horrific," Pickens County Sheriff's Office spokesman Creed Hashe told news media Thursday night. "We'll be here for some time."
After calling 911, Hendon described to WYFF seeing deputies approaching the Jeep with their guns drawn.
Hendon said he saw deputies take a baton to break out the glass and that an EMS supervisor arrived shortly after.
He said he had a bad feeling when an ambulance didn't appear.
A changing family
Jessica Edens grew up in the Upstate. She was an all-A’s Honor Roll student in elementary and middle school, according to The News' archives, and she graduated in 2000 from Wren High School, according to Anderson District 1.
Edens, whose maiden name was Dingee, had a newborn son, Hayden, when she started seeing Benjamin Edens in 2008, according to court records filed this week in Pickens County Family Court.
“We fell in love,” she wrote, and they moved in together in 2009 and were married on April 10, 2010.
On July 19, 2012, they had a baby girl, Harper, and they decided Jessica would stay home with the children.
“I decided I wanted nothing more then (sic) to become a ‘stay at home working mom,’” she wrote on a page she had started to showcase her photography business.
On her site, she said she was “a mother of two precious children, and a wife to the most wonderful man.”
In court records also filed this past week, Ben Edens said their life together was “stressful” and “we have grown distant and not always supported each other as partners.”
Ben Edens moved out of the home in April and wrote in court filings that his marriage was unloving.
“I slept on the couch for almost the entire time we have been married,” he wrote.
After Rahme’s death, the coroner’s report listed her address as 644 N. Main St., Greenville, the address for Main + Stone. The apartment complex community also released a statement Friday that called her a resident of the complex. Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller said she was married.
Ben Edens listed the same address as his home address in recent court documents.
Both Ben Edens and Rahme worked at Michelin. Chief Miller described them as acquaintances.
Late Saturday, Michelin released a statement about Rahme’s death.
"We are saddened to learn of the tragedy that has occurred and extend our deepest sympathies to the families involved,” said Eric Bruner, Michelin North America spokesman. “The company will support the police investigation as needed, but as a matter of policy, we will not discuss private personnel matters."
A custody battle
Ben Edens took court action because he said he had limited time with his children since his separation, according to court records.
The tug-of-war over custody grew contentious. She hired a private investigator and asked for sole custody of their daughter, according to court records.
On June 23, Greenville Police received a call from Rahme. She wanted to know her options for dealing with harassment and the officer explained her options and how to file a complaint with Facebook, Miller said.
The next day, Ben Edens called about text messages and Greenville Police determined there wasn’t a communication of a threat that would have required a police response, Miller said.
A court hearing over temporary custody was held this past Tuesday, according to Greenville Police Capt. Stacey Owens. The judge in the case hasn't issued an order, but the children were with their mother that night. That’s when Ben Edens called Easley Police to perform a welfare check of Jessica and the children after he said he’d received a text message from her.
The Easley Police Department responded to the residence on Creekside Way in Easley at 9:22 p.m. on July 12.
When the officer arrived, Jessica said she was going to expose Benjamin in Family Court along with a woman he had been having an affair with, according to the incident report.
Jessica did not display erratic behavior or appear upset in anyway, according to the report.
Jessica also told authorities there was no way she could reconcile with Benjamin who she said had been involved in a long-term affair, the incident report said.
She told the officer that she and the children were going to have a sleepover in the family room to watch movies and eat popcorn. She didn’t appear angry or upset, the officer wrote.
A tragic end
Two nights later, when deputies broke the glass out of the driver’s side door of the Jeep, parked with its doors locked and engine running, they found three victims inside, all shot in the head.
Pickens County Coroner Kandy Kelley listed Hayden King, 9, Harper Edens, 4, and Jessica Edens as the victims.
A .40-caliber handgun was found in the vehicle, investigators said.
Kelley has not yet ruled on how the shooting happened and said that investigation is still ongoing.
Miller said police found evidence after Jessica Edens was pronounced dead Thursday night. It revealed “some sense for inflicting violence either…on the children or on herself or both."
Friends and neighbors are left with memories of the two children. And those who live on the Easley cul-de-sac where Edens lived have noticed the number of vehicles that creep by, gaze at the now-vacant house, and drive away.
Diane Lloyd lives a few houses down from Jessica Edens and would notice the wreaths Edens would frequently put on the front door. This week she’s watched a gray cat peek out through the windows.
“When I first found out, I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t get to sleep that night. I laid in bed – all I could think about was the little ones. What did she say to them? I hope they didn’t suffer,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t sleep, I was tossing and turning. Woke up the next morning and hugged my little niece and nephew and it was still in my head. It’s the kids – that breaks my heart.”
Trish Turner lives a few houses down. She has four sons, and the youngest, Sawyer, was in the same third grade class as Hayden last year at Forest Acres Elementary School. The boys would play together as boys do.
“He was a boy – he was loud and loved to ride bikes and play with Nerf guns and play basketball,” Turner said. “Harper was the cutest little girl, and she was skipping everywhere she went. She did not just walk – Harper was not a walker, Harper was a skipper and a hopper. She had the prettiest blond, curly hair. Always smiling.”
Turner sat down with her children Friday morning to tell them.
“Nobody wanted to say anything, they were all just quiet. And then later last night, Sawyer was like, ‘The only thing I keep thinking is why?’” Turner said. “And I was like, ‘Honey, that’s what all of us are thinking.’ All of us. And the sad thing is none of us are ever going to really know.”
The Greenville News used interviews, police reports, court records and information gathered from press conferences and coroner's reports to create this report.