"She just didn't enjoy sitting in class," says Dartmouth field hockey coach Julie Dayton. "She was hyperactive. She had so much energy. She was bright and perceptive, but sitting in a classroom wasn't her preferred way to learn."
"It was a struggle for Sarah," says Clark, her childhood friend who now attends Harvard. "She's a year ahead of me, and when I went to Harvard, I was thinking about playing three sports. I talked to her, and she said, 'No way. Don't do it. It's just not fun.' "
The story is cut right out of a novel: A privileged young woman has everything but happiness. Devens grew up in the comfortable coastal town of Essex, 45 minutes north of Boston. Her blood could not have been bluer. She is a descendant of Charles Devens, a major general in the Union Army during the Civil War and later a U.S. attorney general. A statue of General Devens stands at the Esplanade on the banks of the Charles River in Boston.
Sarah's parents were divorced when she was in grade school, but Sarah long ago "came to terms" with it, says Crutchfield. Her father, who works in real estate, stayed in Essex, and her mother, a masseuse, moved to nearby Ipswich. Sarah split her time between the two homes.
She had enough best friends to stretch from Ipswich to Hanover and back again. There were nearly 1,000 people at her funeral in her hometown and another 300 at a memorial service at Dartmouth. They told stories of a vibrant young woman who loved to play jokes and have fun with friends; of a girl who, as a first-grader, took the hand of a frightened kindergartner who was clinging to her mother and said, "I'll take care of it from here."
They spoke with great love and passion of the Devil—a nickname that not only sounded like her surname but also described her personality. It was a term of endearment, as in "lovable little devil." She was a mischief-maker, but always with the aim of helping a pal. "It seemed she was everyone's older sister," Dayton says. "She made the bus driver who took us an road trips a part of the team. By the end of a meal, she knew the waitress's favorite music and how many kids she had."
While her own family does not have the boundless wealth of some of Sarah's classmates, they still have clout. According to a source, The Boston Globe quashed a follow-up story on her death when the Devens family made an arrangement with the publisher of the newspaper. The family reportedly agreed not to speak to any other publication if the Globe backed off the story.
Sarah hated reading about herself, and her friends say she was almost obsessively modest. When she started gaining a measure of fame at Dartmouth, it became harder for her to enjoy herself. "She never even told me that she was voted All-America in lacrosse," says Scott Dolesh, who was her boyfriend. "When I asked her why, she said, 'Oh, it's no big deal.' "
When she was named co-winner of the Class of '76 Award during her sophomore year, presented annually to the best female athlete at Dartmouth, Devens worried about the expectations that awaited her over the next two years. What could she do to top that?
"The more publicity she got, the less she liked it," says Crutchfield. "She got letters and had stories written about her, and that just made her feel like she was playing for everyone else. She wanted to quit one sport and take time off, but she felt like that would be letting everyone down."