Rachel Jacobs never seemed to stop going. As soon as she graduated from Columbia University’s business school in 2002, the Michigan native moved from one major job to the next, each step upward to her final landing spot as CEO of ApprenNet, an education technology company.
But for much of Wednesday, her family, friends and co-workers waited anxiously for word of her whereabouts and safety. Then they learned that the 39-year-old was among the seven killed in an Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia.
“This is an unthinkable tragedy,” her family said in a statement. “Rachel was a wonderful mother, daughter, sister, wife and friend.She was devoted to her family, her community and the pursuit of social justice. We cannot imagine life without her. We respectfully ask for privacy so that we can begin the process of grieving.”
Jacobs is the daughter of a former Michigan state senator, Gilda Jacobs. After graduating from Columbia, Jacobs became a manager at the Pragma Corporation, where she helped develop IT strategies for the nation of Kyrgystan, according to her LinkedIn profile. Then it was off to the Eurasia Group, and then to McGraw-Hill in 2007, where she ultimately worked for five years.
About two years into her tenure at McGraw-Hill, Jacobs, who’d been divorced, got re-married to Todd Waldman, a consultant.
She also launched her own non-profit called Detroit Nation, a “movement” of more than 7,000 fellow “Detroiters” who offer free consulting for grassroots entrepreneurs and artists in the Motor City.
By 2012, she became a vice president at Ascend Learning, an education technology company, launching new business units and studying merger and acquisition targets. And she celebrated another milestone: the birth of her first child, according to the Cleveland Jewish News. She and her husband named their son Jacob, whose Hebrew name is Chaim, which means “Life.”
On her Facebook page, Jacobs posted comical and often family-oriented fare. There’s a photo of her mother with her son, another of three daschunds wearing sweaters; and a photo of her and her husband kissing in Mexico.
“En la Calle de Los Besos en Guanajuato,” she wrote. “Legend says that if you kiss on the steps, you will have 7 years of happiness.”
Jacobs quit Ascend two months ago after she got hired at a company called ApprenNet, an education technology firm in Philadelphia. After so many years of being a consultant, director, manager or vice president, Jacobs was now CEO. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, she traveled twice a week to Philadelphia and had not decided whether to move her family there or not permanently.
Perry Teicher, the president of Detroit Nation, said in an interview that Jacobs is a “wonderful person, and she always has very strong energy.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Detroit Nation’s Facebook page issued a status update asking people to call a 1-800 number if they have any information on her whereabouts: “We share the shock and sadness so many are feeling right now as our Founder, Rachel Jacobs, is still unaccounted for after last night’s train derailment in Philadelphia. Our thoughts are with her friends and family as the search continues.”
Karl Okamoto, ApprenNet’s co-founder, told the Inquirer that it was especially hard for Amtrak to confirm whether she boarded the train because Jacobs was using a 10-trip ticket, which allows travelers to get on trains without needing a reservation.
ApprenNet COO Emily Foote was at the crash scene Wednesday showing photos of Jacobs to reporters and passersby, in the hopes of finding her.
“I went to the hospitals last night and she wasn’t in any of them,” Foote told reporters. “I went to the churches and schools where people are being sheltered, and we still can’t find her.”
The company tweeted its angst: “Thank you for your thoughts & prayers for our CEO, Rachel Jacobs. We are still looking for Rachel & hope she will be with her family soon.”
Hours later, her family learned she was gone.