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Friends, neighbors fondly recall slain family

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Gazette Staff
January 13, 2007

Angela Puckett remembered Friday how the Pucketts and the Lentzes went fishing last summer.


How Puckett bought a necklace and earrings for Nicole Lentz's recent birthday.


How Puckett and her best friend, Dani Lentz, spent an hour Wednesday playing with Puckett's new dogs.


Puckett still had undeveloped pictures of the two families together on her cameras.


"I just don't want to believe this," she said Friday afternoon, between phone calls to people who knew the family.


"They got murdered last night in their trailer," she said on the phone, fighting back tears.


The person on the other end couldn't believe it, either.


Danyetta Lentz and her children, Nicole, 17, and Scott, 14, were found dead in their mobile home Friday morning.


Motor home park residents still were in shock Friday afternoon.


They couldn't figure out why they didn't hear anything unusual Thursday night or Friday morning.


"I can't believe that something like that happened," said Bruce Davis, who lives nearby.


"I'm scared to death," said Kathy Van Zandt.


"It's a nice, quiet neighborhood," said Beatriz Jones, one of the Lentzes' neighbors. "Kids can walk and play around here. Nobody bothers us."


Jones said she has lived in the mobile home park for six years and her husband lived there for 10. Until Friday, they typically would not lock their doors.


Puckett, 30, said she hadn't locked her door Thursday night, either.


Danyetta Lentz, 38

Danyetta Lentz worked at Community Kids Learning Center, 2230 Center Ave., where co-workers said she would be missed.


"She was an incredibly valuable employee," said Lisa Furseth, executive director of Community Action, which runs the day care. "She had great talents in teaching and caring for the kids that come in to our center every day.


"She was a good friend to her co-workers and an incredibly caring mother."


Lentz had worked at the center since 1996, mostly as a teacher of 3- and 4-year-old children, Furseth said.


"We are all just incredibly sad today," she said.


Lentz lived a tough life as a single mother, Furseth said.


"Lots of days, life wasn't easy for her, but she put the best spin on it that she could," she said. "She always tried to see the best of things."


Puckett, Dani's best friend and neighbor, on Friday afternoon stood in her kitchen with tears running down her face.


She cuddled and stroked her little dog.


Her collection of angels looked down from on top of her kitchen cabinets.


She remembered Dani as someone whose life revolved around her children.


Dani was a single mom who didn't date because she dedicated her life to her children. She didn't want to bring any bad influences into their lives, Puckett said.


"Dani was a very good mom."


Dani took time for her kids, Puckett said. She always put them first.


The Lentzes did a lot of family things, such as ordering pizza and watching movies.


"They showed that they loved each other," Puckett said.


The father of the children, Thomas L. Lentz, apparently has not been involved in raising the children for many years. Dani's father and neighbors said Thomas lives outside Wisconsin. Court records list addresses in Washington and Texas.


Dani and Thomas were married Aug. 12, 1989, and separated Aug. 22, 1991, according to Rock County Court records.


It was not clear from court records Friday if they divorced.


On Friday, Puckett and her husband, Mike, had to figure out how to break the news of their friends' deaths to their 6-year-old son Jonathan, a student at Jackson Elementary School.


The children were close friends.


Another friend, Michelle Houghton, recalled how last year she didn't have money to buy a present for her nephew, Jonathan Puckett. Dani bought a couple of presents and put Michelle's name on them.


Dani was the kind of person who would do anything for anybody, Puckett said.


"It just doesn't make sense," Puckett said. "She was the nicest person you could know. She didn't have any enemies."


Nicole R. Lentz, 17

Parker High School teacher Lesley Murphy recalled Nicole as a pleasant, quiet girl who was just coming into her own.


"She usually is one of the first kids all day long to say, 'Hi, Mrs. Murphy, how are you?'" Murphy said.


But it wasn't always so. Nicole struggled in school in her first two years at Parker and was often quiet with slumped shoulders, Murphy recalled.


Nicole was placed in Parker's Block Program for at-risk students this year. The smaller classes and more personalized attention seemed to help.


"That's all Nicole needed, just a little nudge, somebody that cared about her, and it was working," Murphy said.


She seemed happier and more self-assured, Murphy said.


Nicole turned 17 on Jan. 5.


"She has just really blossomed this year. She really has become a young lady instead of a little girl," Murphy said ".... She was proud of her grades this year, which wasn't always the case in the past."


Murphy said Nicole had close friends and loved music.


"And as any high school kid, she was interested in boys, but she was always ladylike about it. She did like school, and she did like being here, and she was always very kind and polite to teachers. I never heard her say a bad thing to anybody. It was positive, or it was nothing at all."


Scott L. Lentz, 14

Scott was a freshman at Parker. He would have turned 15 on Feb. 8. Both he and Nicole attended Edison Middle School. Edison teacher Andy LaChance said it was hard to believe that his former students are dead.


"It's pretty solemn around here," he said Friday after school. "Everybody that knows is pretty upset."


LaChance said he knew Scott best: "He was just a fun-loving kid" who often had a smile on his face.


But Scott was serious about school. He would stay after school to improve his grades.


"He struggled, but he put in the effort," LaChance said. "I even gave him a ride home a couple times because he lived down there in the trailer park."


He met Scott's mother, Danyetta, briefly, and she seemed concerned about her son's grades, LaChance said.


LaChance coached "Scotty" on the Edison soccer team.


"He didn't play that often," LaChance recalled. "He was more sidelines than anything, but he was just excited about everything. ?


"Just to be a part of it was more important to him than to be out there playing."


Gazette reporters Ann Marie Ames, Marcia Nelesen and Frank Schultz contributed to this report.

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