Artists express shock over murder of elderly Ocean Springs woman

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS  (WLOX) – "We support each other. We care about each other.  It's a pretty big shock for us," said Gautier artist Pat Bernstein.

Every Monday, Bernstein and about 20 members of the Ocean Springs Art Association meet at the Community Center to paint, share stories and socialize.  Every stroke of the brush helps them escape from their worries.  But nothing can take away the pain of losing their dear friend Joan Armstrong.

"Everybody gave each other a big hug, which we don't usually hug on Monday mornings," said Bernstein.  "She always had a smile on her face and she made the most of every day. She was a real happy person."

"It hurt a lot and I'm still kind of in shock, which we all are I think.  We're probably painting to sort of help get it away," said Ocean Springs artist Jan Bailey.

Joan Armstrong was killed in her Front Beach condo Saturday night.  Police say her son, 47-year-old John Armstrong, will be charged with her murder Tuesday.

Police say they were called to her home earlier that day, because John Armstrong was acting strange. But officers said they did not notice any signs of violence and Mrs. Armstrong did not want to take any action against her son.

"I think all of us are just kind of commiserating with each other about it and how shocked we are about the whole thing," said Waveland artist Anita Gallagher.

Mrs. Armstrong was the group's past president.  Members had looked forward to seeing her again Monday to celebrate her 81st birthday.  One friend even sent her a special card.

"It would get there today, a hand-painted birthday card.  And she was going to take her to Applebee's, because that was one of Joan's favorite restaurants," said Bernstein.

Instead, friends were left wondering why she was murdered and mourning her loss.

"Joanie was just real genuine. No airs about her. Good sense of humor.  Just a lot of fun to be around, except that she was hard to hear, because she was very quietly spoken," said Gallagher.

But her actions seemed to speak louder.  As a former nurse, she was always taking care of others. She was also a big supporter of Earth Day activities and Art Education.

One painting will serve as a lasting reminder of Mrs. Armstrong's passion for art.  She was one of the charter members of the Art House in downtown Ocean Springs.  She and several other artists worked on a floor rug painting at the non-profit gallery.

Her tragic death will leave a huge void in the weekly Ocean Springs Art Association gathering.

"She knew the Lord. So I know when this happened, that gave me some hope, knowing that she's with God," said Bailey.

Ocean Springs police say the suspect, John Armstrong, had a history of mental issues. Police talked with him Monday afternoon. Armstrong remains at Ocean Springs Hospital and is being treated for self-inflicted wounds.

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