Jennifer Sebena Remembered for Caring Nature, Loving Spirit
Slain Wauwatosa police officer had tremendous impact on the community as a youth group leader and as an up-and-coming law enforcement member.
Jennifer Sebena had a major impact on the lives of high school students at Elmbrook Church. She reached out to them, mentored them through ins-and-outs of high school and comforted them during tough times, like the deaths of classmates.
But as the students are mourning the loss of a young woman who they would normally turn to, they are leaning on each other instead.
“She always would be able to help us with anything that we had,” said Kristen Overstreet, 18, a senior at Arrowhead High School. “She could relate to anything that we said, which was really, really helpful. We knew that she is not just making it up or isn’t going judge us because she has been through a lot of it.”
Sebena, 30, was shot and killed early Christmas Eve while on duty as a Wauwatosa police officer. Authorities have charged her husband, Benjamin, with her death.
The students at Elmbrook, however, weren’t focused on Sebena’s death. Instead, they look at her life and see a young woman who would do anything for them.
Sebena worked with Kristen and many other high school students in Elmbrook Church’s high school small group in the Lake Country area. While she stopped working with the group, she made sure to keep in touch with the students, texting them, asking about their day and checking up on them to see how life is going. Kristen would often have coffee, dinner or tea dates with Sebena, even though Sebena no longer was with the group.
“She always tried to make us feel loved, and it worked,” Kristen said. “She was very loved and she loved us a lot.”
'The World Is Going to Be a Different Place'
Kristen was one of the students who felt the need to do something – anything – for Sebena. She organized a bake sale to help support Sebena’s memorial.
“I thought this was a good way to help out without getting in the way of anything,” Kristen explained.
Kristen’s younger brother, 16-year-old Ryan Overstreet, said Sebena was “amazing.”
“The world is going be a different place,” Ryan said. “She affected so many people – it’s crazy.”
Sebena’s impact wasn’t isolated to Kristen and Ryan. About a dozen student were helping at the bake sale and had similar experiences.
Taylor Mueller, 17, said Sebena could relate to the students and they could tell she truly cared about them. The youth group leader had a smile that “lit up the room” as she met with the youth, Taylor said.
“She was really open to what we were going through,” Taylor said. “She didn’t judge us. She was one person who has been through a lot herself. … She actually had advise for us because she had been through some stuff that we had been through. Being a youth group leader, it is good to not have someone judge you because you are afraid to say what you have done.”
'She Really, Honestly Cared'
Sebena frequently asked for prayer requests and gave some time for the students to share the good things that were happening in their lives.
Rachael Oury just looked at her phone when she learned about Sebena’s death, re-reading their text messages from the past months.
“Everything she said was just looking out for me, just really taking the time to see how I was doing,” Rachael said. “She was just so great like that. She really, honestly cared.”
Laurel Ruesch, 17, also described Sebena as having a “smile that would just light up a room.”
“She was one of the sweetest people I have ever met in my life,” Laurel said. “She cared about everyone so much. She always put everyone else before herself. She was so selfless and such a role model.”
Sebena’s funeral service is planned for noon Saturday at Elmbrook Church.
"We're crushed," Elmbrook pastor Scott Arbeiter told the Associated Press. "We're heartbroken. This is just not the news that anyone expects or welcomes, and we are just grieving deeply with the family."
Sebena Showed Great Promise
Those helping Sebena work toward a second career — a job in law enforcement — described Sebena as a kind, smiling, driven young woman who was going places.
When members of the New Berlin Police Department heard about the Wauwatosa police officer’s death, they were saddened by the loss of the young woman who dedicated time to helping their department and city.
“It's such a tragedy for everybody involved,” said Capt. Mike Glider. “She had so much potential and was taken far too young.”
Sebena volunteered with the New Berlin Police Department as a member of its auxiliary, a group of citizens armed with handcuffs, batons and pepper spray who help with large community events. The only thing auxiliary members don’t carry is a gun, Glider said.
Sebena started with New Berlin’s volunteer program in June 2008 and continued until she was hired by the Wauwatosa Police Department. She worked with people of all ages, helped with traffic control at events and assisted with public relations for the police department at various community functions. Her “sunny disposition” helped with the community relations, said Glaser, which left a “void” in the department when she moved on to bigger things.
“We all knew that she had a lot of potential to be a great officer,” Glaser said. “She was very good at working with people and talking with people. That skill is very important in police work.”
Sebena worked with the department through January 2011, according to New Berlin Police Chief Joe Rieder.
"Those here that worked with Jennifer remember her as a very kind and caring person with a strong sense of community, a big smile, and dedicated to the law enforcement mission," Rieder said in an email to Patch. "We were fortunate to have Jennifer as a member our department for those few short years, and proud to see her meet her goal of becoming a police officer with the Wauwatosa Police Department."
Brian Dorow, dean of the criminal justice department at Waukesha County Technical College, knew Sebena as she pursued her associate degree in criminal justice. She did very well academically while going through the program, he said.
Sebena served on a student advisory committee that worked with the college to improve the associate degree program.
“She was very motivated and highly dedicated and really wanted to get into law enforcement,” Dorow said.
She did well academically, Dorow said, and then interned with the Wauwatosa Police Department.
“After going through the internship, she was so set on working there,” Dorow said.
Sebena was “just a great girl — a great girl — always happy, very personable,” he said.
“She was well liked and had a lot of friends,” Dorow added. “My instructors thought very highly of her and also respected her.”
'Great Person, Great Officer'
Former Wauwatosa Police Sgt. Tanya Karnick told Wauwatosa Patch on Christmas Eve that what stood out to her in interviewing and recommending Sebena for the force was her personality and clear dedication to the service.
"She was very personable in her interviews," Karnick said. "She was attentive to the interview, but comfortable and confident. She was not too nervous — just the right amount.
"She seemed to have a really good, well-rounded personality, and a maturity that was remarkable. She was older than a lot of recruits just out of school. She was mature, confident, easy to communicate with.
"And she was a caring person," Karnick said. "She really wanted to do a good job at law enforcement. She was somebody who could empathize with other people."
Sebena was injured during recruit training school, Karnick said — a not uncommon occurence — and that delayed her start as a probationary officer.
"She was really disappointed that she couldn't start work," Karnick said.
Lt. Gerald Witkowski, besides being public communications officer for the Wauwatosa police, is also its training coordinator, and was even more involved in Sebena's addition to the force.
"Great person, great officer," Witkowski said. "Our hearts are really heavy. You just can't believe something like this could happen. This is just an unbelievable act. This has touch everyone in our department ... especially at this time."