Donna: Age 54 Central Florida
Her Story: Donna is the mother to two sons and one daughter. On July 2nd 2002 her world changed forever. Katie, her 15-year-old daughter, ate dinner with the family as she normally did. She asked her mother if she could go out with some friends after dinner and Donna agreed as long as she was home by midnight. Around 11:30 pm, a friend’s mother dropped Katie off at her home and watched her walk into the house. The next morning Donna was heading to work and noticed that Katie wasn’t in her room. The lights and music were on so Donna figured she got up early to go to a friend’s house. Donna went to work but when she returned home; Katie was still not there. Donna called all of Katie’s friends and redialed the last number on her phone but could not locate her daughter. She knew in her heart that something was wrong and reported her missing.
The next day, two men were walking in the woods and found a naked body laying next to a creek. It was an unidentifiable young female who had been brutally raped, asphyxiated, burned and tossed on the side of the road like a piece of trash. Sadly, dental records confirmed that the dead body was Katie’s, age 15.
Who committed this horrific crime? The police traced a phone call from our house at 1:03 am the night she went missing. She talked with a young man for 12 min. Katie hung up the phone and met him outside of her home. He arrived at her house with a few friends in his car and she joined them. She thought she was going for a ride to get cigarettes but never returned. He was an acquaintance of Katie’s but nothing more than that. This phone call led the police to more evidence and eventually he went to trial and was charged with the murder of 15-year-old Katie.
Tell me about Katie. Who was she? She was a gorgeous 15-year-old girl. A true social butterfly. She loved life and everyone in it. She was innocent and truly did not think that anyone would ever hurt her. It’s strange, just before Katie passed I had a conversation with her. I told her how I would have heartache for the rest of my life if something ever happened to one of my children.
How do you move on after something so devastating? Losing a child feels like your heart is being ripped out of you. But losing a child in such a violent way sends those suffering into an unspeakable level of grieving. This was not a sickness or an accident, ya know?
Initially, I kept myself busy trying to figure out who committed this horrific crime. I spent my time at the police station, going to the trials and making sure justice was served. Now, I think telling Katie’s story has helped me. It makes me happy when people remember her. There is a small bridge over the creek where Katie’s body was found. It’s a beautiful little spot and a few years ago they named the bridge in honor of Katie. I think it goes without saying that I have also relied heavily on my faith in God for strength. I know this may sound strange but there are moments when I feel her spirit and I talk to her.
I also make an effort to call families who are suffering the loss of a child. I know from experience that these families need support but they usually do not have the strength or energy to seek help. I have called complete strangers to let them know that they are in my thoughts. It’s helpful to those grieving to know that they are loved and supported.
What do you want others to know? I want everyone to know that this could happen to you. We lived in a good neighborhood and in a good town. We are a loving family. Trust me, I never thought I’d be on the news and I certainly never thought that my own child would be murdered.
One day I was in the grocery store and a young girl approached me. She told me that she felt guilty for my daughters murder. When I inquired, she confessed that she too had been raped by the same guy at the young age of 14. She thought that if she reached out and told someone, Katie might be alive. Perhaps we need to encourage our girls to trust their instincts and use their voice. I don’t fault this poor girl though. She was terrified. Apparently, he threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone. So living in fear, she kept quiet. Please talk to your daughters. Let them know that they can always tell you anything! Let them know that they are valued and loved. Don’t assume they know it, sometimes they need to hear it. As parents, it’s a simple thing we can do and it may save a life.
Why is Donna All That And A Bag Of Chips? If you ever have the pleasure of meeting Donna, you will never forget her. Somehow she makes everyone in her life feel special and loved. She never makes your problems feel small even though in comparison..she easily could. Despite suffering an unspeakable, violent loss, she is almost always smiling. Her genuine honesty and kindness make her an excellent support for others suffering a loss. She values life and has chosen to live everyday to the fullest. What can I say? The world needs more Donna.