Montgomery psychiatrist kills son, self

August 3, 2011

A 54-year-old psychiatrist who doted on her 13-year-old son fatally shot the boy in their Montgomery County home before killing herself, police said Wednesday.

Margaret F. Jensvold, a graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, was deeply committed to the care of her son, Ben Barnhard, who suffered from an autoimmune disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity, according to her friends, court records and Ben’s father. The two lived in Kensington.

Police found the mother and son after Jensvold’s co-workers grew concerned because they hadn’t seen her since late last week, a police spokesman said. Officers were called to the house on Tuesday, went inside and found the two bodies. The mother and son were found in their bedrooms. Newspapers that had been left outside indicated that the pair could have been dead for days.

A medical examiner ruled Wednesday that the deaths were the result of a murder-suicide, said Capt. Paul Starks, a police spokesman. “Both victims had at least one gunshot wound,” Starks said. He said Jensvold shot her son and then shot herself.

“You don’t expect this,” said Jamie Barnhard, Jensvold’s ex-husband and Ben’s father. “You don’t expect this out of a mental-health professional.”


Ben Barnhard is shown in May. (Courtesy of Jamie Barnhard)

Barnhard sobbed over the phone Wednesday night while describing his son and his ex-wife.

“She was a very bright and, for the most part, very happy person,” he said.

Ben recently returned from Wellspring Academy of the Carolinas, a renowned weight-loss boarding school, where he lost more than 100 pounds, his father said. “He was bright and energetic,” he said. “A wonderful child in every respect.”

In divorce records filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, Jensvold listed 18 professionals her son needed to see. Among them: child neurologist, allergist, infectious-disease specialist, rheumatologist, educational tutor and psychiatrist. At one point in her career, Jensvold gave up her private practice to become a salaried psychiatrist for Kaiser Permanente, which afforded her more time to seek medical care and educational opportunities for her son.

“I can hardly imagine a better parent than Margaret Jensvold,” longtime friend and fellow doctor Jeffery W. Paulson wrote in a letter to the court supporting a petition that she retain custody of Ben. “She is committed to raising her son with all the advantages she can provide for him.”

Jensvold grew up in California and attended a magnet program in elementary school for gifted and talented students, according to friends and her ex-husband. She co-edited her high school newspaper, Paulson wrote in his letter of support, and graduated from UCLA.

Joyce Braak, a doctor who was Ben’s godmother, wrote that Ben “could not have a more superb mother than Margaret Jensvold.”

Part of her commitment was how strongly she delved into her son’s medical problems. Jensvold thought that his illness was the result of a strep infection, said Bob Baum, an attorney who represented her.

One court filing, submitted as part of her divorce and custody proceedings, was a research paper she studied titled “A Case of Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated With Streptococcal Infections.”

Said Baum: “She fought tooth and nail for her son to get his education issues taken care of.”

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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