- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009

FARMVILLE, Va. — A Virginia teen killed along with her parents and a friend was remembered Saturday as a rebellious girl who dabbled in the occult and obsessed about macabre music but also listened to the Backstreet Boys and played soccer.

Emma Niederbrock, 16, was slain along with her mother, Debra Kelley, 53, a Longwood University professor; her father, the Rev. Mark Niederbrock, 50, a Presbyterian minister; and her friend, Melanie Wells, 18, of Inwood, W.Va. They were found bludgeoned to death in Ms. Kelley and Miss Niederbrock’s home Sept. 18.

Miss Niederbrock’s service followed one for her mother, where Ms. Kelley was remembered as a tough but caring educator who devoted her life to better understanding criminals and their victims.

Miss Niederbrock’s boyfriend, aspiring horrorcore rapper Richard “Sam” McCroskey, 20, of Castro Valley, Calif., has been charged in Mr. Niederbrock’s death. Authorities expect to charge him in the others soon.

Miss Niederbrock, Miss Wells and Mr. McCroskey were brought together through an online community that idolizes horrorcore music, which sets lyrics of murder, mutilation and decomposing bodies to hip-hop beats. Ms. Kelley and Mr. Niederbrock took the three to a horrorcore music festival in Michigan on Sept. 12.

The Rev. Sylvia S. Meadows did not blame the music for what happened, nor did she mention Mr. McCroskey or the songs he recorded and posted online under the name Syko Sam that bragged about the thrill of killing. But she did talk about the power music can have, from the relaxing sounds of nature to the rousing “Rocky” theme song.

“Music has a way of affecting the way you think, the way you feel,” she said, directing many of her comments to about two dozen young people who attended the memorial service at Farmville United Methodist Church. Many scribbled messages to Miss Niederbrock on a skateboard or soccer ball during the service.

Earlier in the day at Ms. Kelley’s service, Ms. Meadows said the small college town has come “face to face with evil.”

“We can no longer live as though certain groups don’t exist,” Ms. Meadows said. “We can no longer pretend that darkness and forces of evil aren’t right under our noses.”

Miss Niederbrock was trying to find herself, Ms. Meadows and others said.

Online, she was “RagDoll,” a beautiful girl with bright pink hair who talked about boozing it up and her love for the music and the underground community that followed it. At the same time, she was designing skirts and modeling them for her grandmother or talking about the job she was getting at a local beauty shop where she could style hair and makeup.

Miss Niederbrock was home-schooled since middle school. She preferred to talk online, even with friends close in town, said Donn Cook, 19, who said he has dated Miss Niederbrock on and off since eighth grade and remained close to her.

James Hodgson, who had worked with Ms. Kelley for years and was writing another textbook with her, has said she was disturbed by her daughter’s obsession with horrorcore and they were in counseling. He said Ms. Kelley had taken Miss Niederbrock to the concert in Michigan and others hoping to keep an eye on her and believing that it was a phase that would pass.

On Saturday, he and others remembered Ms. Kelley as a woman who was born to teach.

As an only child, Ms. Kelley would line up her dolls and stand before them with a book in her hand, pretending to be their teacher, even stopping to scold them for talking during class, Ms. Meadows said.

Ms. Kelley had taught sociology and criminal justice studies at Longwood since 1994 but was on paid leave doing research until her resignation took effect in May. She hoped to get a teaching job at Virginia State University, which is closer to her parents in Richmond.

She was a bookworm with a passion for research. Before reading a long list of praise from students and co-workers, Mr. Hodgson said Ms. Kelley would have challenged him over whether the statements were backed up by data.

Ms. Kelley started Longwood’s chapter of Lambda Alpha Epsilon, a criminal justice fraternity. She often had students over for cookouts, said Kelly Sloan, 22, who graduated in May. And while she knew each of her students on a personal level, students said Ms. Kelley rarely talked about her home life other than occasionally bringing Miss Niederbrock to class.

Ms. Sloan and others said Ms. Kelley stressed the human side of crime and that real people were behind the statistics. They recognized the similarities between the subject matter Ms. Kelley taught, including classes on homicide and victimization, and her violent death.

“It is ironic that someone who teaches all of this stuff basically became one of the statistics that she talked about with us,” Ms. Sloan said.

Police have said Mr. Niederbrock died Sept. 17 but have not determined when the others were killed.

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