A three-part reflection by Rachel Ebeling, co-founder of Angel Band Project
Yesterday, February 2, 2016, a new book was released by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eli Sanders. “While the City Slept” traces the lives of the three people whose lives tragically intersected on July 19, 2009. Jennifer Hopper, Teresa Butz, and Isaiah Kalebu. This is not a new story for us, by any means, because I had the pleasure of growing up with feisty Teresa in south St. Louis in the 1970s. We met on the first day of kindergarten at St. Stephen’s Protomartyr Catholic School. Wearing freshly pressed red plaid jumpers and wearing little ties around our necks that snapped under our white collars, three 6 year olds were introduced into kindergarten by Mrs. Lang. Teresa Butz, Jean Haegele, and Rachel Rankin. Little did we know on that first day where our friendship would take us.
Teresa was number 9 in a family of 11 children. In the 70’s, we experienced freedoms that are certainly not a part of childhood in the new millennium. We walked to school, walked home for lunch, hung out at the quick shop after school without any care that we needed to be home to show our parents we were still alive, wandered the neighborhood like banshees. We walked to the movie theater on Friday nights, snuck into R movies, hocked cigarettes from older siblings, and held dance parties late at night when Teresa’s parents were out of town. Not that we were bad kids. We were normal kids full of curiosity about our world, our boundaries, ourselves.
Jean, Teresa and I channeled our tendencies for getting into trouble in three healthier ways: 1) speech meets 2) school plays 3) sports. Jean and I were much better at numbers 1 and 2 than 3; Teresa was actually good at all 3. But these extracurriculars led us to discover that we really liked each other, and could have good clean fun anywhere we wanted. Performing in front of an audience was our specialty, and running around the softball field after Teresa would hit a grand slam made us feel great. So a grade school friendship turned into a continuing high school bond that eventually felt more like a sisterhood. If something great, or devastating, or heartbreaking occurred, it was Jean or Butz that got my phone call.
As many of us all know, Teresa was raped and murdered in her home in the early morning hours of July 19, 2009. She was in love with Jennifer Hopper, and the two were planning to get married in September that year. But that was not to be, because Teresa died of the stab wounds to her chest after jumping out a window to escape their attacker. Jen was also raped and stabbed repeatedly, but survived.
It’s been almost 6 1/2 years since this heinous tragedy occurred. In some ways it feels like no time has passed, but other times I feel like it’s been longer. I miss her shrieks of glee, her infectious smile, her crazy laugh, her thunderous clap. I miss her sappy cards and her long-winded letters. All of the inside jokes and smiles that friendship for 35 years brings to life.
Eli has taken great care to tell the story of Teresa, Jen, and Isaiah Kalebu and what made them tick. He analyzes the breakdown in our country’s mental health system, and perhaps if more attention had to been given to Isaiah’s troubled mental state much sooner in his life, July 19th would have never been labeled the date of the infamous South Park Attacks in Seattle, Washington.
Buy the book, read it for yourself. While the City Slept