JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Hundreds gathered Saturday morning to attend a celebration of life for a beloved Atlantic Coast High School science teacher, who Jacksonville police said was strangled to death.
A man has been charged with second-degree murder after police found him driving the car of the Vivian James, who investigators said was found dead in her Westside home on Dec. 28. Zebulon Perkins, 27, was scheduled to appear in front of a judge Saturday, but he waived his first appearance.
Hundreds entered the performing arts center at Atlantic Coast High School to embrace the legacy that James left behind.
“She changed my life. I was definitely heading down the wrong path, most definitely, and she changed my whole life,” said Ako Williams, James’ student.
Williams said James mentored her while she was a student. That relationship continued on throughout the years. Williams last spoke with James two days before she died.
“She impacted a lot of kids -- troubled kids. A lot of kids that were on the wrong path, she definitely changed them,” Williams said.
Her 20 year career impacted students, teachers and her community. She is described as a bubbly, dancing, passionate science teacher. Several students said she was more than just a teacher.
“We can only just remember her really and keep moving, and she wouldn’t want us to be sad. We can only just remember her and keep going,” Williams said.
Perkins, police said, admitted to going to her house on Glen Alan Court on Dec. 26. A friend discovered her body 48 hours later, according to investigators.
Perkins was found driving James’ car. The arrest report reveals that investigators found James’ cellphone, credit cards and a bag with a pair of bloody sweatpants inside.
Perkins is accused of three counts of tampering with evidence, dealing in stolen property and second degree murder.
Saturday morning’s emotional ceremony ended with a butterfly release in the school’s courtyard. Atlantic Coast’s principal said one of James’ students is designing a memorial.
James’ spirit remains in the school halls, classrooms and the hearts of all those she impacted.