‘She had so much to finish’: Friends, family mourn New Cumberland mom ambushed, killed in her home by ex

Jessica McCulloch, of New Cumberland, spent her life doing what she loved: caring for children.

She started as a teacher at a daycare center, worked her way up to director and then opened her own preschool last year in a partnership with her mother.

“She was the true definition of inspiration to anyone who is afraid to follow their dreams,” said her friend and former coworker Leticia Jaen. “Jess loved every child she came in contact with as her own and was more than happy to do so.”

With the success of their Little Bulldog Academy in York County, Jessica and her mom last month announced plans to open a second location later this year in Cumberland County. They were both thrilled and excited about the opportunity.

But now, that expansion won’t happen, after McCulloch, 36, was killed by an ex-boyfriend in a murder-suicide shooting that also seriously wounded her husband.

McCulloch had dated the man last year, who had been a family friend for many years, but she had recently reconciled with her husband Brandon McCulloch.

Shortly after 6 am on April 6, prosecutors say the ex-boyfriend entered her home in the 1200 block of Bridge Street with a gun and without the knowledge of the McCullochs.

“He snuck into their bedroom on the second floor while they were sleeping, confronted the victim and shot her and her husband,” said District Attorney Sean McCormick. “He then turned the gun on himself and shot himself.”

Her husband survived. McCulloch’s three children, twin teenage boys and a 7-year-old girl, were in the home, but were not physically hurt.

Devastated family and friends, including her husband, parents, five brothers and her stepson, plan to celebrate Jessica’s life at a funeral at 2 pm Friday April 15 at Gladfelter Funeral Home, 822 E. Market Street in York.

Jessica grew up in New Cumberland, where she roller skated at the Fountainblu arena, and graduated from Red Land High School. She started working in childcare, but then became a Certified Nursing Assistant in a doctor’s office. She soon returned to a classroom, however, as child care was her passion, according to her mother.

Jessica was her mother’s best friend, only daughter, and business partner. Tammy Beaston stoically reopened their child care academy two days after Jessica died and said she is committed to keeping it open in honor of her daughter.

But Beaston said she can’t continue with the second location planned for New Cumberland without her daughter’s help.

“It breaks my heart, but I just can’t,” she said. “I hope the families that were currently on a waiting list will understand. I have different daycare centers already reaching out to help with whatever… it’s amazing how all these communities are coming together on my daughters behalf. ”

Jessica made a huge impact on the children in her care, Beaston said.

“I know at our center, she would come in put her things down and go to each classroom to say good morning and the littles would get all excited to see Jessie and run to give her a big hug,” Beaston said. “She could never walk into the 3-year-old room without the littles running up to hug her each and every time throughout the day.”

Jessica spent hours preparing elaborate holiday parties and staff celebrations to make special events for everyone at the academy. She liked to dress up and go all out for the events, Jaen said, including coordinating Sesame Street character costumes last October for all the teachers for Halloween.

She organized a St. Patrick’s Day party for the kids last month, complete with crafts, party food and tiny gifts, and wore a festive four-clover crown and green beads. At the end of the business day, Jessica posted photos on Facebook of the kids, whom she called her “lucky charms.”

Thirty minutes later, she posted a photo of dozens of plastic eggs, stickers and candy on a carpeted floor as she was already starting preparations for the next holiday this month.

“Next on the agenda,” she posted, “Operation Easter.”

Parents remember Jessica as always having a smile on her face and for making their children feel special.

Jessica also served as a role model for staff members, friends said, by helping and motivating teachers to ensure they were effective with the kids. A former co-worker shared a message with the family that said: “Jess gave me a chance to get into my career field, taught me how to be a great educator and was always there when I needed her. I’ll forever be grateful for being able to know her. ”

Jaen, her former co-worker, said Jessica was an amazing woman in every way possible. She started an online fundraiser to help Jessica’s children since she didn’t have a life insurance policy.

“Jess and I started as co-workers and quickly became friends,” Jaen said. “Towards the end of us working together she was telling me about her plans to open her own center with her mom Tammy. Her face lit up every time she talked about it! I loved watching Tammy and Jess interact with each other, their mother and daughter bond was one of the closest I have ever seen. ”

Jaen lamented the life cut way too short.

“She left behind her three children that meant the absolute world to her,” Jaen said. “We lost an amazing person. She truly had so much to finish. Words cannot describe it. ”

The fundraiser for McCulloch’s children can be found here: Support for the children of Jessica McCulloch.

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