Artist Jennifer Lee Rathjen dead at 26

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Talent came easily to Jennifer Lee Rathjen, who excelled at the visual, performing and musical arts.

The 26-year-old Hauppauge native could play piano, dance and use a paintbrush to turn a blank canvas into a thing of abstract beauty, her father, Dan Rathjen, said.

"She was multifaceted," he said. "She actually did ballet for a while. Played flute. She enjoyed it, so much. She wanted it and we did the best to get it for her."

Rathjen was found dead in a house fire five days ago. Her family has scheduled a 2 p.m. Saturday memorial service for Rathjen at Calvary Lutheran Church in Hauppauge.

The Rathjen family is struggling to replace their destroyed belongings and cope with the mystery around her death, which was discovered after firefighters put out a blaze at the Rathjens' Townline Road home Monday afternoon.

Fire investigators are trying to discover the cause of the fire and police are trying to find out how she died, though fire officials said early in the case that she likely did not die from the fire.

Det. Lt. Jack Fitzpatrick, commander of the homicide squad, said the case is still under investigation, and that he is awaiting autopsy results from the Suffolk medical examiner.

In the meantime, the Rathjens, who were left homeless because of the fire, hope to get some answers soon even as they recall fond memories of Jennifer's brighter days.

"She was the most beautiful girl in the world," said Dan Rathjen, who added that Jennifer lived with her mother, Jamie, an older brother, Joseph, 27, and a younger sister, Jessica, 21. None of her relatives were home when the fire broke out.

Dan said his daughter was born in Hauppauge and lived there for much of her life, though she lived in Manhattan for a time. She had studied at Hunter College and before being laid off close to a year ago had worked for a Manhattan-based architectural firm.

Dan Rathjen said he spoke to her a few days before her death, and that she told him she had been sending out dozens of resumes in search of a job.

She attended and graduated from Hauppauge schools and she most recently was attending New York University, majoring in art history with a minor in psychology. But she took some time off because of financial problems, Dan Rathjen said.

She cared about people - and animals, her father said, pointing out her role as a paramedic for the Central Islip-Hauppauge Volunteer Ambulance corps and the love she showed her two cats, Trixie and Eleanor.

Early on, Jennifer Rathjen showed interest in the arts, her father said, adding that she played in Hauppauge High School's orchestra.

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