For the past three years, Leslie Jenea Chance has been principal of Fairview Elementary School, well-respected and praised for her work ethic.
On Friday, she was in jail on suspicion of murdering her husband.
It was a startling development near the end of a disturbing week that began Sunday morning with the discovery in a field of the body of her husband, Todd. He had been shot multiple times. His black Ford Mustang turned up miles away, abandoned.
Kern County Sheriff’s spokesman Ray Pruitt said Friday he could not release details, but detectives uncovered information and evidence leading them to believe Jenea Chance was responsible for her husband’s death. He said the murder weapon has been recovered.
Pruitt said there’s no indication anyone else was involved in the killing. Search warrants were served Thursday at the school and at the Chance home in the 9400 block of Metropolitan Way.
Greenfield Union School District Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Kenneth R. Chichester said Friday that the Kern County Sheriff’s Office called him Thursday night to tell him of Chance’s arrest. Chichester met with school staff Friday morning. He and the staff were shocked by the news, he said, adding that many of the staff believed the sheriff’s office had arrested the wrong person or made some mistake.
“People are innocent until proven guilty and we’re going to let the justice system takes its course,” Chichester said.
Chance, 46, is being held without bail in connection with the death of her husband and is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon. She declined an interview request from jail.
Pruitt said detectives have interviewed Jenea Chance several times. He wouldn’t say what she told them.
A woman who answered the phone at Chance’s residence declined comment Friday, as did a man at the home of Todd Chance’s parents.
Chichester said Jenea Chance has been with the district since 1997, including four years as assistant principal at Fairview and since 2010, principal. He described her as knowledgeable, a hard worker, well-respected and quiet.
Chichester said he spoke with Chance briefly by phone Monday morning after hearing of her husband’s death. He described her as subdued and seemingly in a daze.
Outside the school Friday, some parents expressed surprise and concern and some took their children home. Chichester said he prefers that, for now, parents make decisions on talking to their children about the situation.
Parent Maria Flores said she got chills when she heard the news.
“The woman must have been sick to do something like that,” said Flores, who took her 8-year-old daughter out of school.
Alma Hernandez brought her hands to her face when told about Chance’s arrest as she dropped her nephew off at school.
“I’m really shocked,” she said.
Laura Gonzales said she heard about Chance’s arrest from a friend and took her son out of school because she was concerned something bad might happen on campus. She said one of her son’s friends told him about the arrest of the principal as they played together Friday morning.
Gonzales said school officials gave her a district phone number to call for further information.
Lisa Ramos found it difficult to consider that Jenea Chance could have killed her husband. She said Chance watched her kids grow up at the school over the course of eight years.
“She’s an amazing person. I don’t know why so many people are throwing stones at her so soon,” Ramos said.
Ramos recalled that Chance always brought her family to school events and even helped Ramos’ family by writing a custody case character reference.
Ramos said she was upset with people’s online comments about Chance since the arrest.
“People are calling her disgusting and saying that she should be hanged, but nobody knows what happened, and if she is proven guilty may God be with her, but if she’s not, there is no reason to blame her.”
Greenfield officials said Chance was a teacher at McKee Middle School from 1997 to 2004, an academic coach at Ollivier Middle School from 2004 to 2006 and assistant principal at Fairview from 2006 to 2010, when she was named principal.
At Con-way Freight, where Todd Chance had worked for two years as a driver, staffers already mourning the death of a colleague were stunned by the latest development in the case.
David Cotter of Con-way Freight’s Bakersfield office said he met Jenea Chance once. He declined to speak further about her arrest.
Cotter described Todd Chance as a “nice guy, real mellow,” who kept to himself and did his job well.
Kern County Sheriff’s deputies have said Todd Chance’s body was found by farmworkers Sunday in a field in northwest Bakersfield. The coroner’s office ruled the death a homicide and said he died of multiple gunshot wounds.
Todd Chance, 45, had left his Bakersfield home Sunday morning and was found a couple of hours later about 9:30 off a dirt section of Noriega Road near Enos Lane just south of the Rio Bravo-Greeley Unified School District offices.
His black 2011 Ford Mustang was found a short time later, abandoned near the intersection of Tigerflower Drive and Wheatland Avenue in Bakersfield.