Monday, January 12, 2009

Jane Kowalski and the Denise Amber Lee Tribute

I posted a few days ago that I was feeling as if I was getting over the "zombie phase". And all in all I am.

Today started out very well. Mark and I went over to North Port City Hall and attended a meeting for the city commissioners. They voted unaminously to give Jane Kowalski the key to the city. Thank you, David Garafolo, for all you've done. And thank you the City of North Port. It was Dave's idea and he wrote a touching letter to the commission expressing why Jane (who is not a native of the city) should get the key. Also, they had Nathan speak. Dave was right, and, yes, I was tearring up. I held back but I did tear up several times.

Here's the a copy of the letter he read to the commission:

On the evening of Jan. 17, 2008 Jane Kowalski did what several other people later told police they wish they did. Upon witnessing suspicious activity in the car behind her as she left North Port and entered Charlotte County, a very calm Jane called 911 to report a man pushing his passenger down in the seat. The passenger was screaming and banging on the window. Jane told the dispatcher the description of the car to the best of her ability. Without fail, the out-of-town resident provided valuable information about each intersection she passed and alerted them about the slow rate of speed she and the man who was later identified as Michael King were driving along U.S. 41. Not once did she raise her voice or become agitated during the nine minutes Jane was on the phone with the 911 center operator. In fact, she parked at the Toys R Us in Murdock for 15 more minutes once King turned onto Toledo Blade just in case a Charlotte County deputy wanted to take her statement in person. Hundreds believe it is because Jane followed King it caused him to feel uncomfortable and it sent him back into North Port where police were searching for his green Camaro. Although the outcome was horrific and surreal, if Jane had not carefully explained everything she saw, the massive man hunt for Denise Amber Lee might have spread into several counties and gone on for far longer than two days. Jane explained she last saw King turn onto Toledo Blade Boulevard heading back toward the interstate. Several hours later that is near where King was arrested and sadly Denise's body was later found. In memory of Denise and with the utmost respect for Jane, I'm requesting that we City Commissioners give a key to the city to Mrs. Kowalski. She should be publicly honored for her heroic actions, time, dedication and efforts to save someone she did not know but understood was in trouble. Jane is a true example of the type of person who cares for people no matter what. She didn't need a purpose or cause, she just instinctively knew she should help in any way she could on January 17 and again on January 18 when she called the North Port Police Department to double check that they received her information from Charlotte County. Her follow through attitude is extremely commendable. If more residents could be like Jane, North Port would be even a better place to live. However, she is a role model. She did her best to help instead of minding her own business and thinking the possible domestic dispute would correct itself. Jane has stayed involved with the foundation even flying to California for a recent taping of the Dr. Phil show. This all because she believes in the foundations goal of strengthening 911 and making us all safer. This small token is a way Jane can be thanked on behalf of the City Commission, the Lee and Goff families as well as the residents of North Port, Englewood and Charlotte County who were touched by this tragedy. Many people look forward to meeting Jane during the memorial celebration of Denise Amber Lee's life on Saturday. The Denise Amber Lee Foundation will be presenting Jane Kowalski with the first ever Denise Amber Lee Award on Saturday, this would be an excellent time for this presentation. Thank you for your consideration.

David Garafolo, Sr.

She'll be presented with the key on Saturday, the anniversary of Denise's abduction and death. The same day and event where we are going to have our Denise Amber Lee tribute. She deserves it too. She stayed calm throughout her 9 minute phone call to the CCSO 9-1-1. You could hear the compassion and concern in her voice. You could also hear the frustration with the 9-1-1 center. But she stayed on the phone and had Michael King behind her for nine minutes. Little did she know Michael King had a gun and her own life was at risk. But not thinking about her self she did what we all know we should do and that's get involved. And we need to care about fellow human beings. We all would like to think we would do the right thing but some of us don't. Obviously. At least, two other witnesses came forward and said they saw Denise's struggle, but they did nothing.

And then of course, Harold Muxlow. But that's for a different post.

Anyhow, when this first happened I used to wear my "Remember Denise, Fix 911" button everywhere. It was a badge that prompted much conversation. Conversation that I use to be eager to be engaged in. I haven't worn the button much lately. I've learned not everyone is as eager to talk about it as I am. But it used to be good therapy for me and I felt it was the least I could do to forward Denise's cause. I don't know. For some reason or another I've stopped wearing it. I think I even got tired of talking about it.

Today when I arrived at city hall, I saw another woman there wearing a Denise button. This woman has worked with us several times and had helped us with Denise's memorial. She's also helping with Saturday's presentation. Since, she was wearing her button I decided to put my on. I always wear my bracelet, but I hadn't worn that button in a long time.

I sat there through that meeting and I was doing quite well. It was very moving.

Later I stopped at the grocery store and debated whether I should take the button off. For some reason I decided to leave it on. It's not a big button. It's about 3" round. Maybe smaller. I'd measure it, but I took it off and I'm not sure where I laid it down. Well, at the grocery store deli department the deli man asked me about the button. He had never heard of Denise. That's surprising. Just about everybody down here knows about Denise, other than maybe snowbirds. But even the snowbirds know about Denise because they are always here in January. It really is the best month IMO weather wise in Florida. So, I had to start telling him about Denise. He was very kind and very understanding and said all the right things. Wow! Not only didn't he know about Denise, he was able to say all the right things! So, this was a somewhat new experience. Then I asked a fatal question. Why I asked it, I don't know. But I asked "Have you lost a loved one to murder?" and sadly his answer was "yes". He went on with his story about his girlfriend's son being murdered up in Tallahassee last year. I just wanted to cry. But he understood. And I understood him. All he later said was "I understand". And I said "I understand and God bless you". And he said "God bless you, too". But then he added "you keep wearing that pin! It means she's with you! I might get my girlfriend a pin. I think she'd be proud to wear a picture of her son." Denise's picture is on the button.

That's our roller coaster. I feel like a zombie again. I feel as if I brightened that man's day. I feel as if I helped him. I believe he's going to get a picture of his girlfriend's son and make a button for her. I believe he knows he helped me. The button brought two strangers together who have experienced tragedy and we were able to share a comfort.

In any case! Thank you, Dave, and the rest of the City of North Port Commissioners. And thank you, deli man, for being such a nice guy. I'm sorry you and your girlfriend are in pain.

I think I'll go hibernate for the afternoon. I'm not going to be much good for anything else.

I'm not sad. I'm happy. Happy for Jane! It's such an honor and she deserves it. I'm just tired. This murder business takes a lot of emotional energy.