As students return from break, Atlantic Coast High focuses on legacy of slain teacher

Beloved science teacher Vivian James was found dead in her Westside home over winter break

Beloved science teacher Vivian James was found dead in her Westside home over winter break.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Atlantic Coast High School students returned from winter break this week, the day after News4Jax learned of an arrest in connection with the death of a longtime science teacher.

As students changed classes Thursday, they could be seen passing by a memorial for Atlantic Coast High chemistry teacher Vivian James, who was found dead inside her Westside home days after Christmas. Her death is still fresh for students and teachers, who said they said their focus this week had been embracing the legacy the beloved teacher leaves behind.

“She was an educator of educators,” Atlantic Coast High teacher Ben Rowan told News4Jax on Thursday.

Over her 20 year career, James was one of those teachers who students will never forget -- fun, but strict, and tough, but fair.

“I remember one day, I was supporting her in her class and going over elements and she just started rapping. And I was next to a laptop cart and it was metal and so I was just, like, drumming, you know, and going with her flow and it was a lot of fun,” her colleague said. “I knew that I was in a safe space for someone to let loose like that and just be so open with who she was and that was kind of her energy. And it spread.”

Over the winter break, the unthinkable happened: The teacher -- described as being bubbly, sweet and passionate -- was found dead the morning of Dec. 28 in her home on Glen Alan Court near 103rd Street.

Police said it’s believed the 49-year-old woman, who lived by herself, had been dead for 48 hours before her body was found after a friend came to check on her and that person called 911. According to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office records, her death is being investigated as a murder.

“I felt that it was so unfortunate and so horrific for something to happen to somebody in general, but such a good person,” Rowan said. “Somebody that was really giving it her all to her community and somebody who was just so terrific to work with.”

In the same courtyard at Atlantic Coast High where James shined so bright, her school family is keeping her close with the memorial.

“I feel, without my work family, it would be a lot different," Rowan said. “I knew that even as horrific and unfortunate and unfathomable as this situation is that I am not alone in grieving.”

The memorial currently in the courtyard is temporary. A former student who James taught in 2012 is designing a permanent memorial. Donations are being collected to help create the permanent memorial, and the excess money will be donated to her family. Anyone wishing to donate to the GoFundMe account created to help fund the memorial and for James’ family can do so by clicking here.

The memorial currently in the courtyard is temporary. A former student is designing a permanent memorial. (WJXT)

A celebration of life will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at Atlantic Coach High on R.G. Skinner Parkway.

As of Thursday, Zebulon Perkins remained in the Duval County jail on charges connected to James’ murder. According to his arrest report, Perkins, 27, was arrested Dec. 28, the same day James was found dead, after police ran the tag of James’ 2007 Toyota Camry and learned it was parked at a hotel on 103rd Street. Police said they watched as Perkins loaded items into the car and threw other items into a dumpster. In the dumpster were James’ identification cards, pill bottles and earbuds, police said.

Inside the car were James’ camera, three laptops, her cellphone and credit cards, as well as a bloody pair of sweat pants, according to the arrest report.

Perkins is charged with tampering with evidence and dealing in stolen property. He has not been charged in connection with James’ death. He’s being held on $100,000 bond.

About the Authors:

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.