Friday, January 16, 2009

Denise Amber Lee and today's papers

This just in SNN6 is going to carry the tribute live.

The Sun

Resident's to celebrate Denise Amber Lee's Memory

NORTH PORT -- Not many people knew who the shy Denise Amber Lee was until after she died. But in the days following her Jan. 17, 2008, abduction and murder, she became a household name.

Residents in North Port, Englewood, Charlotte, Punta Gorda and Rotonda rallied to raise money for the family Lee, 21, left behind -- her young sons, Adam and Noah, and grief-stricken husband, Nathan.

Every week for months, residents planned fundraisers and memorials, including benefit runs, car washes, picnics, self-defense classes, silent auctions, yard sales, a tree planting, a jewelry party, a golf tournament and a family fun day in the park in Denise's honor.

On Saturday, a year after Lee's death, the community will come together again to celebrate her life.

"It's going to be more uplifting instead of a sad memorial service," said Dave Garofalo, a family friend and a member of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation created to improve the 911 dispatch system and bring a state-of-the-art 911 call center to North Port.

A North Port city commissioner, Garofalo invited Nathan, his parents, Peggy and Mark, and Denise's father, Rick Goff, to his office at City Hall recently to organize the 11 a.m. ceremony in front of City Hall on Saturday.

Shortly after Lee's death, about 250 residents gathered at the same location to remember Denise. Saturday's service includes some of the same people who were a part of last year's memorial.

Garofalo said it's important to invite politicians because of the foundation's goal of strengthening 911 dispatchers' training.

"When an officer goes to your house for a domestic dispute, you know he's certified," Garofalo said. "When a paramedic is doing CPR on a patient, you know he's certified. You should have the same feeling when you call 911 -- that the dispatcher has had enough training and is certified to handle the call properly. They are a part of the first line of defense. They should have some kind of certifications."

Garofalo said the foundation will continue gently pushing its efforts, despite a poor economy.
"I don't want to see us (the foundation) push to pass a bill that becomes an unfunded mandate that local governments cannot afford," he said. "But that doesn't mean we can't do all we can to make people aware of the flaws in the system."

Nathan says he is grateful for all those who have helped his family.

"Nathan's message is that he cannot bring back his wife, but he can make things better by making people aware of her story," Garofalo said.

Nathan took this week off to help plan for the ceremony and spend time with Adam and Noah.
The Lee and Goff families, as well as the foundation, also will honor Tampa resident Jane Kowalski on Saturday.

Kowalski is the driver who called Charlotte County dispatchers on the night Denise was murdered. She told the 911 operator what she was witnessing in the car behind her, reportedly driven by suspect Michael King. Kowalski said she saw who police believe to be Lee banging on the window and screaming. Lee's body was found two days later off Toledo Blade Boulevard, and King was charged in her death.

Garofalo arranged for Kowalski to be given a key to the city for her dedication and "follow-through" attitude in trying to get deputies to respond to the suspicious activity she reported.
A bagpiper from the city police department will open the ceremony with "Amazing Grace," choir members from South Biscayne Church will sing, and Nathan plans to speak, as well as several others.

"The biggest reason for people to come on Saturday is to see (how) much Denise has made a difference in the community," Nathan said. "They will see how much a negative has been turned into a positive impact throughout our community and our country.

"It will be sad in a way, but it's a celebration about how much has risen from the ashes. Our boys are doing great. We are doing our best to make Denise happy, and we are not going to be miserable our whole lives."

If you go
Speakers for the Denise Amber Lee remembrance at 11 a.m. Saturday in front of North Port City Hall include state Reps. Paige Kreegel and Ken Roberson; the Rev. Dave Baldridge, pastor of Englewood United Methodist Church; Dave Dignam of Key Agency in Englewood; North Port Police Chief Terry Lewis; North Port City Commissioner David Garofalo; and Nathan Lee, Denise's widower.

North Port Community News Editor

The Herald

Memorial to honor life of a mother
By John Davis
Published: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2009 at 12:16 a.m.

NORTH PORT - The city that a year ago watched the unfolding tragedy of the abduction and murder of 21-year-old North Port mother Denise Lee will pause Saturday at City Hall to remember her.

Click to enlargeDenise Lee

A memorial ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. in front of City Hall, 4970 City Hall Blvd. State and local leaders and Nathan Lee, Denise's husband, are scheduled to speak.

Lee was taken from her home Jan. 17, 2008, touching off a massive, multi-agency search that ultimately failed to save her. Michael King, 37, of North Port, is awaiting trial on kidnapping, rape and murder charges.

The Lee abduction became a symbol for flaws in the 911 system when investigators found later that a witness, Jane Kowalski, reported seeing a passenger struggling in a dark colored Chevrolet Camaro on U.S. 41 that night. Kowalski's information never made it to deputies patrolling nearby after Charlotte County's 911 center mishandled her call. At the time, authorities had a description of King's car, a green Camaro, and were looking for the vehicle.

Nathan Lee has started a nonprofit foundation, the Denise Amber Lee Foundation, with a goal of improving the emergency call system in Florida and across the nation. He lauded Kowalski for her 911 call.

"She has been amazing towards my family," Lee told city leaders this week. "What she did that night is something everybody should do. It doesn't matter who you are."
North Port will award Kowalski a key to the city Saturday in recognition of her attempts to save Denise.

Kowalski's mishandled call has garnered national media attention and led to a state law on voluntary statewide training standards for people who work in emergency communications centers.

But Nathan Lee, who indicated he plans to sue Charlotte County over its response to Kowalski's call, said more improvements are needed.

This story appeared in print on page BN1