Teri Zenner

Teri Zenner Wiki – Teri Zenner Bio

Teri Zenner, Teri’s widower Matt has pursued legislation to better protect social workers—but he’s frustrated with the lack of progress on a national level.

Matt Zenner made a vow hours after his wife Teri — a 26-year-old social worker with the Johnson County Mental Health Center in Mission, Kan. — Was brutally murdered by one of her mentally-ill clients of hers. It was 2004, and Teri had been at the killer’s home on a home visit to ensure he was taking his medication from her.

“I remember seeing an image of her coming out of that house in a body bag,” Zenner, now 44, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, “and thinking, ‘She’s not going to be just another dead person that everybody feels sorry for and then forgets about. We’ve got to do something to make sure this never happens again.’”

Age

Teri Zenner is 26 years old.

Social Worker Murdered Doing Her Dream Job

While still grieving, Zenner — whose wife was stabbed in the neck numerous times by 17-year-old Andrew Ellmaker, who later attempted to dismember her with a chainsaw — went to work meeting with local politicians to push for legislation to provide more resources, training and protection for social workers like Teri.

Thanks to his efforts, by 2010 Kansas became the first state to adopt safety training for social workers working alone in residential settings with potentially violent offenders. But similar legislation has repeatedly failed to get a vote in Congress.

That’s troubling news to the hundreds of thousands of social workers across the country who find themselves on the frontlines — and often alone — caring for some of the country’s most vulnerable, and, occasionally, violent individuals.

The statistics are equally worrying.

In 2018, a Bureau of Labor study described how social workers were nearly five times as likely to suffer a serious violent injury—ranging from sexual assault to murder—while on the job than people working in other sectors. And earlier this year, a survey of more than 1,100 social workers revealed that nearly 60 percent of the respondents had experienced at least one incident of client violence.
“So many are quitting this career because they feel unsafe,” says social worker Shirley Turpin, a friend and colleague of Jacqueline Pokuaa, who was gunned down in the maternity ward of a Dallas hospital in 2022 by the boyfriend of a woman who had just given birth.

Despite the dangers—and the deaths—those trying to secure protections for these workers have little to show for their hard-fought efforts on a national level.

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“Making sure they are safe on the job is not only the right thing to do,” says Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who has been spearheading legislation on this issue since 2019, “but also essential.”

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Engaged and now living in Texas, Matt remains hopeful that the legislation he helped champion in Kansas will one day get passed on a nationwide level. “I’ll do whatever I can to keep bringing awareness to this issue,” he says. “Social work was Teri’s passion for her. She just wanted to help others.”