Md. psychiatrist, teen son dead in murder-suicide

August 3, 2011 - 7:28 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — A psychiatrist specializing in women's health and her 13-year-old son were found dead in their home in suburban Washington in a likely murder-suicide, police said Wednesday.

The bodies of Margaret Ferne Jensvold, 54, and her son, Benjamin Barnhard, were found Tuesday afternoon in their respective bedrooms. Police were called after one of Jensvold's co-workers reported being unable to contact her for several days. Jensvold was divorced and lived with her son in the upper-middle-class suburb of Kensington, Md.

Both bodies had signs of trauma, but police did not elaborate. Capt. Paul Starks, a Montgomery County police spokesman, said officers had obtained a search warrant for the home and were continuing to investigate but believe that the deaths were the result of a murder-suicide. He would not elaborate on what led police to that conclusion, and said autopsy results were still pending.

"We of course still have to gather all evidence," Starks said.

Jensvold was most recently working with Kaiser Permanente in Kensington, said her ex-husband James Barnhard, Benjamin's father. He said he was still in disbelief and had not yet heard a timeline from police as to what they believed happened. He said he had last spoken with Jensvold several days ago to arrange a time to pick up his only son from her house.

"Ben was a very sweet and loving child. I mean, he was just one of the kindest and sweetest kids a parent could ever wish to have," Barnhard said. He said his son had spent the last year at a weight-loss program in North Carolina and had shed more than 100 pounds and loved sailing and other water activities.

He said he had no indication of any problems between his son and ex-wife.

"She was always nice to Ben. Sometimes she could get a little frustrated with him, but she was always nice to Ben," he added.

In 1990, Jensvold filed a federal lawsuit against the National Institutes of Mental Health, where she had been a medical staff fellow.

She alleged that a male superior harassed her because she was female and fired her in 1989 before she could complete the third year of her fellowship program. An eight-person jury found in Jensvold's favor, but that decision was rendered moot in 1996 when a judge held that she did not have the right to a jury trial and called her version of events an "illusion" and "widely exaggerated and skewed."

"She's an incredible person. I know she struggled against significant adversity, personally and in her career, and overcame a lot of hurdles to do some wonderful research and be a really good practitioner," said Lynne Bernabei, an attorney who represented Jensvold in her case.

"I think she had a great compassion for women and improving the lives of women through good health research, and she had a real passion for that," Bernabei said. "It wasn't just a 9-to-5 job for her. She really cared."