Brattleboro, VT – A White, female, social worker was found brutally hacked to death on Monday. Police believe the attack—carried out by a mentally-ill Black transient with a history of violent tendencies—was targeted, and an axe was used to butcher the victim in the same facility that housed her.
36-year-old Leah Rosin-Pritchard, a shelter coordinator for the 30-bed Morningside House, was found dead at approximately 9:30 am after being maliciously targeted by a Black woman who had been living in the shelter since the summer of 2022, according to Police. Reports indicate that Rosin-Pritchard was a former High School volleyball coach, a graduate of Rhode Island College, and an “irreplaceable “ member of the community.
Police say they responded to a report of loud thuds, screams, and a person being attacked with an axe inside the Morningside House. When they arrived, they discovered Rosin-Pritchard on the floor of the kitchen, horrifically brutalized about the upper torso, and suffering from wounds to the face and neck. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
In a living area close by, they also found the suspect: 38-year-old Zaaina Asra Zakirrah Mahvish-Jammeh, a female Black transient that court officials have declared “a danger to others.” According to a police affidavit stemming from the incident, officers found her “wiping blood off of her hands with a paper towel.”
“The short conversation they had was very muffled and hard to hear,” said Sgt. Greg Eaton, a police Detective after reviewing the grisly surveillance footage. “But it was clear there was no argument before I could hear thudding and the screaming.”
According to the same affidavit, Mahvish-Jammeh openly admitted after the attack that she “didn’t like” Rosin-Pritchard to one of her coworkers. It also alleges that the suspect continued to strike the victim with the axe—and a knife—long after she had already fallen helplessly to the floor.
“It was a f—–g brutal savage f—–g murder,” said one anonymous resident who watched the violence unfold. “I haven’t been able to sleep. Because every time I close my eyes, I see that s—.”
“I heard screaming. I come down the stairs. I look around right by where the dining room table is, and there’s a body on the floor, and I couldn’t even tell who it was,” he continued. “That’s how badly smashed the face was. She looked up at me and then went down to beat [the victim] a couple more times in the face.”
The witness then went on to allege that Mahvish-Jammeh had a history of violent, mental health issues that the Morningside House was ill-equipped to deal with. He also asserted that he was personally assaulted by her twice in the past—once with a wooden suggestion box used as an improvised weapon, and another time with her closed fists.
The suspect apparently disrobed after the attack and was seen wearing a headband with bunny ears, blue socks, and grey-colored sweatpants. Instead of the more controlled, secure environment that a person like Mahvish-Jammeh needed in order to suppress regular, violent outbursts, the witness claimed she was instead forced to integrate with a population of homeless individuals with far less severe issues.
“[The suspect] has severe mental health problems, and they put her in a house that’s not equipped for that and the staff isn’t trained for that,” he explained. “I told them two months ago, this was going to happen, and they didn’t listen. It was just a matter of time before she grabbed a butcher knife.”
Mahvish-Jammeh was quickly arrested, arraigned, and ordered to be held without bail. The alleged axe-murderer plead not guilty to the charges of 1st-degree murder and has been ordered by the court to submit to a mental health evaluation in the wake of the especially gruesome crime. Despite the murder including a Black suspect and a White victim, however, hate crime charges have yet to be issued.
“She is a danger to others and potentially to herself,” Judge Katherine Hayes said of Mahvish-Jammeh during the arraignment.
But for many in the community, the damage is already done. According to the Groundwork Collaborative, the organization that runs the Morningside House, Rosin-Pritchard was described as “irreplaceable,” and her loss will critically impact the day-to-day operations of the facility.
“Leah Rosin-Pritchard is irreplaceable…We can unequivocally say that Groundworks will not be the same without Leah,” read a statement released on the company’s Facebook page. “Our staff and program participants are shocked and grieving. We are, at the same time, personally and organizationally impacted and focused on supporting each other while continuing to provide food, shelter, and supportive services to the people and the community who need us.”
The state of Vermont has long battled with homelessness, and currently has the ninth-largest homeless population in the United States, according to the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The racial dynamics of the issue make it difficult to dismiss, however, due to the vast majority of White people personally affected. During Vermont’s 2022 annual “Point-in-time” report—conducted every January which tracks the homeless population and records demographics, a vast 88% of homeless who counted, were White.
The results mirrored 2020’s point-in-time report, where 88% of the 1,110 homeless Vermonters counted were White, 6% were Black, less than 1% were Asian, and 5% were another race or multiple races. Despite a massive influx of public cash—which nearly tripled at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic—the problem of providing for vagrants like Mahvish-Jammeh only seems to worsen as time goes on.
According to a 2022 report issued by Vermont State Auditor, Doug Hoffer, homelessness in Vermont has effectively doubled pre-pandemic levels despite spending an exorbitant $455 million over the course of six years. More people are now known to be “experiencing homelessness” in Vermont than during any other year since the state auditors began officially tracking the numbers back in 2014.
“While Vermont responded quickly and systematically to protect homeless households during the pandemic, the solution has been expensive and relies on short-term federal funding and the willingness of motel and hotel owners to continue to make rooms available,” Hoffer wrote, highlighting a lack of willpower by the system to solve the now-critical issue of homelessness in the Green Mountain State. “…newly constructed units are extremely valuable for those who reside in them, Vermont is not building its way out of the problem. What will it take for Vermont to have the infrastructure in place, both services and housing, to ‘end homelessness’?”
Those who care for or provide services to the nation’s surging homeless population often do so at great risk of personal injury or even death. In 2022, a White homeless shelter worker in Albany, NY, was attacked by a Black vagrant wielding a pair of swords. The victim, Jon Romano, asserted that during the murder attempt the Black attacker used anti-White slurs and referred to him as a “white devil.” While Romano survived, the incident has left him permanently disfigured, and he has since demanded prosecutors issue hate crimes charges to his attacker.
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