Vt. homeless shelter looks to future following brutal murder of social worker

Published: May. 8, 2023 at 6:39 PM EDT|Updated: May. 8, 2023 at 7:01 PM EDT
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BRATTLEBORO, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s been just over a month since police say a homeless shelter coordinator in Brattleboro was brutally murdered by a guest staying at the shelter. Now, the organization, still reeling from the loss, is contemplating the path forward.

It’s almost an unthinkable act-- a social worker slain, allegedly, by a woman to whom she was providing services.

“We will never move on from this. This will forever be part of who we are as an organization,” said Josh Davis, who has been the executive director of the Groundworks Collaborative for more than a decade.

In early April, tragedy struck. The organization, which provides housing, food and wraparound services in the Brattleboro area, lost one of its one.

Police say Leah Rosin-Pritchard was brutally attacked with a hatchet inside the homeless shelter she ran.

“Leah really embodied the love that we try to show up with every day and the work that we do,” Davis said.

Leah Rosin-Pritchard
Leah Rosin-Pritchard(Courtesy: Groundworks Collaborative)

Rosin-Pritchard worked at Groundworks for just over two years, moving up from Rhode Island to start a career as a social worker.

“The shockwaves of what happened at Morningside House are reverberating far and wide,” Davis said. “It’s affected not only us as an organization but our fellow service providers, our community, the state at large, the profession of social work.”

Court papers state Zaaina Mahvish-Jammeh, a resident of the house, was captured on security cameras carrying out the heinous murder. We still do not know what sparked the attack. Mahvish-Jammeh was ordered by the judge to undergo a mental evaluation.

Zaaina Mahvish-Jammeh
Zaaina Mahvish-Jammeh(WCAX)

Davis declined to talk about the specifics of the case but says the incident is drawing attention to issues within the social services system.

“The mental health system, the amount of substance use. The opioid epidemic that we are in in Vermont and how that presses upon our shelter system. And what we ask our shelter programs to do is untenable,” he said.

Davis says part of Rosin-Pritchard’s legacy will be a spark that advocated for broad change on her behalf.

“That aren’t just specific to what happened with Leah but in general, looking at our homeless shelters in Vermont and throughout the country as really filling gaps of broken systems,” he said.

Groundsworks staff briefly paused their work, with help from local and state agencies who stepped in on their behalf, to mourn the death. However, the organization is once again operating at full capacity, giving of themselves to others who are in need.

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