Southern comfort

St. Luke’s Episcopal Day School is bound to a former student, the survivor of a home invasion that took her mother’s life, by an on-going relationship that includes pecan pie.

Alexandra Engler, 42, a single mother who was working and going to school, was killed Sept. 24, 2010, when a man broke into her Beauregard Street home before 6 a.m.

Engler and her daughter, Ariana, were starting their day when the intruder shot and killed Engler and wounded her then 9-year-old daughter, a third-grader at St. Luke’s.

Police identified the alleged gunman as Aramis Jackson.

Though there’s no trial date in the more than two-year-old murder, East Baton Rouge Parish assistant district attorney Darwin Miller said the case is “moving ahead in a judicious manner … and moving closer to a trial date.”

In December 2011, then 21-year-old Jackson got new lawyers. The East Baton Rouge Parish Public Defender’s Office, short on death penalty certified lawyers, turned Jackson’s representation over to a division of the Louisiana Public Defender Board.

Last Sunday marked the second “A Slice of the South” pecan pie bake-off at the home of Amy Whitley, St. Luke’s head of school.

Last year’s baking contest raised about $2,500, said Laurie Adams, director of advancement at St. Luke’s. Sunday’s pie contest brought $3,075 in donations to the scholarship fund.

Most of the bakers are mothers or faculty members at St. Luke’s, Adams said.

“The winner the first year was Ann Dugas who had no connection to St. Luke’s but had followed the story of Alexandra’s murder,” Adams said.

Dugas won again Sunday in the “Geaux Rogue” category with a sweet potato and pecan pie.

Tracey Rathcke, a kindergarten teacher at St. Luke’s, took first in the traditional pecan pie category.

“Ariana lives with her dad in another state,” Whitley said. “She looks great. She’s a fifth-grader. We miss her terribly and wish she were here.”

Ariana’s father, Johnny Adriani, and the child’s grandmother, Bonnie Hunt, preferred not to say where Ariana lives nor provide a recent photo.

“She’s a witness in a capital case,” said Hunt in a telephone interview from Holderness, N.H., where she lives.

“Ariana, over the past two years, has recovered beyond anyone’s rational ability to comprehend,” Ariana’s father said in a telephone interview. “Ariana inherited the great strength of her mother and through this strength she has prevailed as no one could have ever expected.”

A fifth-grader at St. Luke’s, who was Ariana’s friend in third grade, stays in touch with Ariana, Whitley said. “I think they Skype for the most part.”

After Sunday’s bake-off at Whitley’s house, judges picked the winners and tasters donated money to the scholarship fund in exchange for slices of pie.

Whitley got the idea for the baking contest from Engler’s mother, Bonnie Hunt.

“We started ‘Who Makes the Best Apple Pie’ 10 years ago,” Hunt said.

Apple pie donations go to a mentoring program for girls ages 9 to 11 called “The Circle” in Plymouth, N.H., said Hunt, a consultant in trust and estate planning, who was a single mother.

Four years before her daughter’s death, Hunt and her bake-off were featured in Cooking Light magazine. The layout included a photo of Hunt and Engler. Engler is holding a pie in one hand while corralling 4-year-old Ariana with the other.

Whitley has visited Hunt in New Hampshire twice. When Hunt comes to Baton Rouge for court dates in the case of her daughter’s accused killer, she visits St. Luke’s, Whitley said.

“She always goes to see the people at Our Lady of the Lake, the ER people,” Whitley said. “She stays in touch with the dispatcher who took the 9-1-1 call.”

“Bonnie is a strong woman,” Whitley said. “She raised Alexandra herself.”

Hunt has been told capital cases move slowly.

“I’ve come to lower my expectations as far as the timeline goes,” she said. “This will never be over for me, but I’d like to see a legal conclusion.”

Hunt was in Baton Rouge for the pie contest. While she was in town, she hoped to attend a meeting of Beauregard Town’s civic association.

Hunt has made friends in the downtown neighborhood where her daughter and granddaughter lived.

“The Hunt family has donated $1,000 a year for 10 years to Beauregard Town,” Hunt said. “The money goes to people who’ve bettered the community,” she said.

Her granddaughter is all right, Hunt said.

“Every time I see her, we have a wonderful time together,” she said. “She’s healing. She has a wonderful sense of humor. Her personality shines through.”