By Sally Voth - email@example.com
From a young age, slain photojournalist Sarah Libbey Greenhalgh displayed the characteristics for which her family remembers her: tenacity, integrity, an adventurous spirit.
And, the irony of the Winchester Star journalist being the subject of intense media interest wasn't lost on her mother, Sara Lee Greenhalgh, and sister, Kate Langton.
"It's really uncanny," Mrs. Greenhalgh said in a phone interview from her Poolesville, Md., home. "It's so surreal. That's the main reason that I'm granting interviews, because I think she would understand. Of course, everyone wants to know how I feel, but I feel exactly as you would imagine -- I'm just overwhelmed with grief over what's happened. It's just so tragic. I can't understand how someone could do anything like that to another person."
The 48-year-old was found dead Monday morning by firefighters called to put out a fire at her home on a private lane off U.S. 50 in Upperville. Her death is being investigated as a homicide, although a cause of death hasn't been released.
Fauquier County Sheriff's Office Lt. James Hartman said Thursday the FBI has been called in to help the investigation, which has included a couple of search warrants.
On Friday, the surviving Greenhalghs remembered what Sarah was like in life.
She'd always been interested in journalism, and after a year studying fine art and photography in Florence, Italy, Sarah went to Lynchburg College to get a journalism degree, her mother said.
The family -- father William Greenhalgh died 18 years ago -- lived in Potomac, Md., before moving further out in the country to Poolesville.
"She loved animals and being outside," Mrs. Greenhalgh said. "We have a stream, there's a pond near by. She was a child going around with boots and digging around under the stones and looking for whatever."
The family had rescue ponies, and Sarah developed a love of horses that would later lead her to cover steeplechasing and horse shows for various publications.
Her late father taught criminal procedure and constitutional law at Georgetown University Law Center, and Mrs. Greenhalgh took varied college courses at George Washington University for 25 years, and they would travel throughout Europe, taking Sarah along.
Mrs. Greenhalgh remembered her daughter being invited to Kenya to visit a classmate when she was just 12 years old. Her father accompanied her to London, but from there, she was on her own.
"She even came back by herself," Mrs. Greenhalgh recalled. "She stayed a month. She had such a wonderful time, seeing the animals. She had been given a little Brownie camera by my mother. She just started taking pictures, and she became a photojournalist.
"She went back to Africa many times on photography safaris, and took absolutely wonderful photographs."
Sarah was artistic in other ways, too, painting pictures and making pottery.
"We have all got mugs and bowls and vases and things that she made," Mrs. Greenhalgh said.
Her daughter also embraced the life of a reporter.
"She loved to say to me...'Mom, I'm on deadline. I can't talk,'" Mrs. Greenhalgh said."She would be tenacious to try to get to the bottom of a case. She loved being a reporter, getting her stories accurate, getting her stories out."
Sarah was a tall blonde with "a great deal of presence," her mother said. "When she dressed up, she had a great deal of elegance -- long blond hair. She had great posture."
She recalled her daughter as someone brave and exciting and fiercely smart. While Sarah dated, didn't seem interested in marriage and children, her mother said, adding it would be hard to have a family with all the traveling she did.
"It's just a huge loss, tragic loss," Mrs. Greenhalgh said. "I'm still in such shock about it."
She had hoped to get together more with Sarah, but sensed her daughter had been withholding some of her personal life from her in recent months. Mrs. Greenhalgh attributed this partly to her not taking part in the digital age as her daughter did.
Mother and daughter had just spent the Saturday before Sarah's death together, attending a family wedding in Clarke County.
"I was so looking forward to going and visiting Sarah there [in Winchester] and taking her out to dinner or lunch or something," she said. "I was just waiting for her to settle in. I already miss her terribly. We will just never have any life together. She had a great sense of humor, a funny sense of humor, and just sharing regular life together. That's one of the things I will miss most. Her take on life was very, very exciting. I loved to hear what she thought about what was going on."
Sarah and her sister had reconnected with each other in recent years, Langton said in a phone interview from New Mexico, where she lives.
"I was 12 years older," she said of her sister. "I was almost kind of like a mother. I had some of those feelings toward her."
But, Langton went away to college at 18, and lived overseas for 13 years, and "we really didn't start to get close until four years ago when I returned from the UK."
"The last year, we got close," she said. "I talked to her four times in the week that she died. We became close finally, thank God. I would just be destroyed at this point if we [had not returned] to being real sisters.
"When you're 12 years older, you just don't think you're going to be the last one still standing. It's just really a shocker."
The pair had just talked on Sunday.
"I just don't know how I'm going to get through this coming Sunday," Langton said. "We had a good time. She's funny, very funny. She was a loyal friend. She loved to teach people, loved that whole kind of mentor thing. She's a good writer.
"She took a lot, many more risks than I do, but I liked that about her."
By risk-taking, Langton said she was referring to her sister's travels in Africa.
"She told me at one point there was a cobra in her tent," she said. "Very intrepid."
Langton also appreciated her sister's directness. In their last conversation, Sarah had dryly remarked, "You never want to become the news," according to Langton.
While she has no idea who killed Sarah or why, Langton said that media references to Sarah's last Facebook post -- written Sunday, the last night she was seen alive -- might not be in context.
The Winchester Star reported the post contained the following comments by Greenhalgh:
"Going to be sleeping with the windows wide open . . .:-)
Now if batsh-- crazy boy would just leave me alone . . . will get some much needed rest because tomorrow is Monday, and I got a ton of work to do!"
Langton said her sister was referring to a man she was dating, and she always used the phrase "batsh--- crazy boy" when referring to him.
"It was a term of endearment," Langton said.
And, typical of Sarah's sense of humor and her "larger-than-life personality," her sister said.
"She was a wonderful sister," Langton said. "She was a great sister actually."
Sarah Greenhalgh's funeral will be at noon Friday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville. Her mother said donations can be made to her former boarding school, Oldfields School in Sparks Glencoe, Md., or to the National Steeplechase Foundation.