Ten years after 14-year-old Marlee Johnston of Fayette was killed by a boy she had befriended, her family is more determined than ever to live in a way that is about much more than simply honoring her memory. It’s about doing the good Marlee would have done if she’d only been given the chance.

“It’s not about what she had accomplished, though she had accomplished a lot. It was about what we knew she would be,” said family friend Stephen Bell, snow sports director at Kents Hill School, just a few miles from the Johnston home. “They do an amazing amount of work. They’re still the driving force. People want to be a part of it.”

Many people from Fayette and the surrounding communities continue to jump in with the Johnston family to hold a trio of annual fundraisers that has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Marlee Fund, which is used to help young people follow the same dreams that mattered most to the fund’s namesake, from skiing and singing to following in her brother’s footsteps as a student at Kents Hill.

Matthew Carne, a family friend and assistant head of school for advancement at Kents Hill, marvels at the ability of Marlee’s parents, Ted Johnston and Marlene Thibodeau, and her brother, Alec Johnston, to create solace amid the anguish. Ted and Marlene understood early on, Carne said, that to make the rest of their lives bearable they had to do something that would honor their daughter’s memory on a daily basis.

“Any family that has a tragedy like this wakes up with it every day,” he said. “I would believe that many would try to occupy their minds with something else. They do just the opposite of that. They try to find ways, every day, to spend time with that memory and try to find a way to make good of that. I’m not sure I could do what they do.”

Thanksgiving Day marked the 10th anniversary of Marlee’s death. She was taking her two dogs for a walk and decided to stop and ask a friend, 14-year-old Patrick Armstrong, to join her. Armstrong, at some point, returned to his home to retrieve a baseball bat, which he used to kill Marlee. Ted and Alec went searching for Marlee when she failed to return home. Alec found his sister face down in Lovejoy Pond a short distance from their home.

Armstrong, who in 2006 pleaded guilty to her murder, was sent to prison for the first 16 years of a 25-year prison sentence, which will be followed by four years of probation. He is being held at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. His earliest release date is May 2021, when he will be 30 years old.

Armstrong said he killed Marlee because he was angry that she was happy. That is one of the qualities that her family, and those who knew her, continue to celebrate a decade after her death.

“She was a pain in the rear, especially as I was growing up,” said Alec, who was 17 at the time of his sister’s death. “But we had a lot of fun together. We were getting to the point where we would go out and do things together for fun. I remember how much I enjoyed spending time with her.”

Marlee attended Fayette Elementary School and was in her last year at Winthrop Middle School. She planned to follow Alec to Kents Hill the following year. She was asked on the Kents Hill application to use three words to describe herself. She chose “kind,” “compassionate” and “caring.” Ted pointed out that the words mean basically the same thing, but Marlee liked them.

“That was her,” Bell said.


Marlee was a natural athlete, excelling in soccer, softball and swimming. She shared Ted and Alec’s love of downhill skiing. Alec is a powerful skier, Ted Johnston said, but Marlee had finesse.

“She would ski until she was blue in the face,” Ted recalled. “It was effortless for her.”

Some of Marlee’s favorite moments came while skiing at the Joanne and Dick O’Connor Alpine Training Center at Kents Hill. The center is the home slope for Kents Hill and four other area programs, including Winthrop. Marlee, a member of the Kents Hill Ski Club and the Winthrop Middle School club, spent hours at the center.

Alec responded to his sister’s death by organizing a ski race for middle-schoolers in her honor. That first event, held at the Alpine Training Center just a few months after her death, was held to celebrate Marlee’s life and help heal those who were broken by her death, her father said. More than 200 students showed up that first year, many dressed in tie-dye and mismatched bright colors for which Marlee was known.

“The idea was to get a bunch of kids together and have fun,” he said.

The center has hosted the Marlee Johnston Alpine Race every year since as it morphed into a fundraiser for the center. The 10th race is set for Jan. 9. Money generated by the event pays for equipment used at the center, Bell said. The race has helped countless students ski who otherwise would not have been able to afford it.

“Every program that comes through utilizes everything here. It really has its fingers on so many kids,” Bell said. “It’s been a wonderful thing coming out of such a tragedy.”

Alec said he is thankful, rather than surprised, at the race’s continued success.

“The fact we’ve been able to have solid support for 10 years is fantastic,” he said. “It’s almost beyond my ability to describe.”

Ted and Marlene, sitting inside the Alpine Training Center where their daughter spent untold hours, light up when talking about the facility and Marlee’s race. Every year, it seems, they meet someone else eager to share their love of Marlee.

“They come up and say, ‘Are you Marlee’s dad?’ ” Ted said. “I’ll say, ‘Yes,’ and they’ll tell me a story.”

The race was just the first of many fundraisers the family would add, each helping others pursue one of Marlee’s passions. The Marlee Johnston Memorial Golf Tournament was held later that same year, and every year since, to provide scholarships for local day students to attend Kents Hill School. The scholarship, which is already endowed with nearly $250,000, helps at least two students every year.

Marlee’s Ride, a motorcycle ride and raffle started a few years ago, helps pay for young girls to attend summer camp at Camp Mechuwana and the Julia Clukey Summer Camp for Girls at Camp KV. The fund, which has paid the tuition for more than 20 campers the last couple of years, recognizes Marlee’s love for camps and swimming.

Marlee’s Fund also has purchased books for the Marlee Reading Room at Winthrop Middle School and the Fayette Central School Library. Marlee was a voracious reader, her father said.

“We couldn’t keep up with the books,” he said.

Anne Richardson, director of Strategic Planning and Initiatives for Kents Hill, said the Johnstons and school officials are in the planning stages for the Marlee Leadership Camp for Girls, a day camp that will be based at Kents Hill.

“Marlee is celebrated for her love of sports, music and arts,” Richardson said. “She was also a leader. I think that is a missing piece to remembering Marlee.”

Richardson, who was the school’s director of communications when Marlee was killed, helped the Johnstons manage the throngs of news media looking for another piece of their story and was involved in organizing Marlee’s memorial service. She believes the family’s strength comes from “a tremendous sense of compassion.”

“I think it takes very special people to do this,” she said.

Glen Tricarico was in the same grade as Marlee at Winthrop Middle School and continues to have a friendship with the family.

“They’re some of the nicest people I’ve met since I lived in Maine,” he said. “They’re humble, forgiving, just great people.”


Ted Johnston said Alec sought to protect his parents by hiding his grief in the months immediately after his sister’s death. He leaned on others, but always felt the support of his parents, even as they were reeling.

“I certainly wouldn’t be able to be where I am now without the support of my parents,” he said. “They’ve always been there, even when times are real tough. I’ve certainly grown closer to them than I would have otherwise.”

Ted and Marlene love talking about their son, who is an electrical engineer and officer in the Maine Air National Guard. Alec, now 27, is the kind of man who will drop everything on a weekend and head to Marlene’s hometown in Aroostook County to knock out a “honey do” list for his parents. He continues to volunteer at the ski center, beyond helping with the events for the Marlee Fund.

“My son is just about as good a person as you can be,” Ted said. “He can do just about anything.”

Alec said he stumbled for a while after Marlee’s death. He dropped out of college at one point. He knew it was hard on his parents, but he also thought of Marlee.

“Marlee certainly would not approve if I turned out to be a bum,” he said.

He regained focus and finished his degree, graduating in 2013 from the University of Maine in Orono with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. He also joined the Air National Guard to fulfill a commitment to the military.

Alec said losing Marlee has not only taught him empathy, but it also has given him a toughness to withstand adversity and tragedy.

“Without her I would have been a very different person,” he said. “I’ve had the ability to experience the trials and tribulations of having a sibling. Unfortunately, I’ve also learned what is to lose a sister. I certainly would give anything not to have experienced that, but that has given me perspective that very few people have.”


Ted Johnston said his family finds strength from the community that gives unwavering support and the extended family that became close right after Marlee’s death and has stayed that way.

“We’ve been married 35 years,” Ted said. “She’s my best friend. She’s the person who makes me who I am. She gives me a lot of strength. She’s a very, very positive person, always.”

Ted and Marlene say they have been “blessed” despite the loss they have had to endure.

“We had two, beautiful, bright children,” Marlene said, tears filling her eyes. “Happy.”

They still can see their daughter up on stage at Winthrop Middle School, just before she died, singing “100 Years” by Five for Fighting. The song, about the concerns and dreams that people experience at various stages of life, says at 15 “there’s still time for you. Time to buy and time to lose. Fifteen, there’s never a wish better than this.”

When she was done singing, Marlee gathered a group of students around her and said next year she wanted them all to sing with her.

“I swear her arms were 8 feet long because she was hugging them,” Ted said. “They were thrilled she wanted to include them.”

Marlee died a few weeks later, but 10 years on she is still bringing people together and inspiring those who loved her most to live in a way that would make her proud.

“Our daughter was just precious,” Ted said. “Her nickname was ‘Marlee girl’ because she was a girl, but was faster than most boys. She had the most in-check ego of anyone I’ve ever met. She made me laugh all the time. I’m better for having known her. I’m far worse for having lost her.”