Debbie Stolz, who was killed Sunday in Otay Mesa, was regarded as the “Mother Teresa of foster care” by her friends and colleagues at Grossmont College Foster Adoptive and Kinship Education Program, who said her life's work was helping as many kids and families as she could -- and she did so until her very last breath.
Stolz, 65, and her daughter Elizabeth Stolz, 37 were gunned down during a fight involving 31-year-old Jeremiah Horton, who goes by the alias Justice Love Peace. Investigators believe Horton shot Elizabeth at some point after he arrived to pick up their 6-month old baby for visitation, and he then turned the gun on Debbie. Horton was later found dead in Mexico.
“She’s a miracle worker -- I don’t know how else to say it; she was like no other,” said Jeanne Schwertfeger, Debbie’s longtime friend and colleague.
Debbie was a mom to eight children -- four through adoption -- and a foster parent in San Diego County for more than 30 years.
“When the social worker had a hard case, Debbie was the one they called,” said Schwertfeger. “Even my daughter that I adopted is now a social worker, and she’s called her.”
Schwertfeger said Debbie helped her adopted daughter through her trauma.
“Debbie worked with them and worked with the parent -- 'How can we help them?' 'How can we deal with this?' 'How can we make this better?' " Schwertfeger said. "And that’s the magic that she had, that I don’t know if anyone else has.”
San Diego Police said that after Horton shot Debbie, he fled with the infant, who was later dropped off by Horton unharmed at the home of his current wife before crossing into Mexico. Law enforcement officials across the border said on Monday that Horton was found dead in Mexico of an apparent suicide.
“If she was here, if we could ever thank her enough for what she’s done -- and, of course, we wish we had said more -- we wish we’d thanked her more,” said Schwertfeger through tears.
Debbie was known to have cared for hundreds of children. In addition to her work at the Grossmont College program, she was also the president of the San Diego County Foster Parent Association.
“If it wasn’t for Debbie, I don’t know if I would’ve made it without her,” said Schwertfeger.
San Diego County offers resources for foster and adoptive families here.