A three-part reflection by Rachel Ebeling, co-founder of Angel Band Project
The snow is falling peacefully and the hum of the furnace keeps me warm in my office. Sitting in this front room, surrounded by windows that let the light of day shine through so that everything around me has stunning clarity, is one of the main reasons why I chose this space for Angel Band Project.
In the next room, Tim Butz is being interviewed by a local reporter for a St. Louis news station. He is one of Teresa’s 8 brothers. Tim is a year and a half older than Teresa. He was the sibling I probably knew the best, because he and Teresa were really tight.
Jean had spent the weekend before the attacks with Teresa in Chicago. Teresa and Jen stayed with her and they had a fantastic time. By chance, Tim happened to be in Chicago as well and got to see Teresa at a Cubs game that weekend too. It was that next Sunday that I had to call Jean and tell her, over the phone, that Teresa was murdered. I wish I could forget that phone call. She still had leftovers in her fridge from carryout they ordered. It was unreal to her, that this happened.
When Teresa and Jen were attacked, we were shaken to the core and tried in vain to figure out, quite simply, how to go on. Teresa’s immediate exit out of this world left a void in our hearts. The weeks after the attacks were rather chaotic. One minute I was so angry, another I was sobbing with grief. We would gather and just sit together, listening to music that reflected our emotional state. Or reminded us of her. Patty Griffin, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson. Music was a salve, a safe place to find comfort. And then there was her fiancée Jen. Trying to heal from her own stab wounds, to grieve, and to regain some sense of purpose to all that had happened. Jen and Teresa’s brothers Norbert and Tony were in Seattle, the rest of us were in St. Louis. Just hurting and praying and coping with the loss.
A few weeks later, Jean called me with the idea to make a benefit album. We decided to approach the Butz family to see if they would be willing to sing music, record themselves, and help us make a record to support survivors of sexual violence. Because, as Teresa’s sister-in-law Angie whispered to us at Teresa’s gravesite, “They are Butz’s. They breathe in song.” We also asked Jen Hopper to be involved. As an accomplished singer and a survivor herself, as well as the fiancée of her beloved Teresa, we wanted her to join in as much as she wanted to. And she jumped in 120%.
The Angel Band Project … we chose the name because of the refrain from an old spiritual.
“Oh come, Angel Band.
Come and around me stand.
Oh carry me away on your snowy white wings
to my immortal home.”
Angels. Bands of them. Seemed like a fitting name for an organization whose mission would be to surround survivors of sexual violence with support and help them heal through music. With one in five women being raped in the U.S. during her lifetime, the need to help them is great.
Today, we use music to break the silence surrounding this issue while also directly helping survivors through music therapy programs. Because rape is a hard thing to talk about. And music is a vehicle that makes it easier to discuss. And for survivors, it gives them a voice.
Eli Sanders’ book is also creating a forum for discussion about a major element that led to this crime in 2009. Mental illness. Isaiah Kalebu, the perpetrator of the crimes against Teresa and Jen, suffered from severe mental illness throughout much of his life. As a poor, African- American male, the public mental health system was not equipped to support him. As Eli Sanders states in his book, the mental health system was in “a state of collapse.” So, the violent tendencies that were concerning to his family were misdiagnosed and left untreated. He refused to take his medications, which eventually escalated into full distress and criminal activity, ultimately driving him to rape and commit murder on that summer night in Seattle.
The snow is slowing down, the sun has set, and the sky is now dark. What will happen while we sleep?
Tomorrow is another opportunity for someone to read this book and reflect on the system that is failing the mentally ill in our country. We simply must do better, America.