Monday, August 17, 2009

Yesterday's Sun Paper

thank you, Elaine!

Life without Denise includes her every day, he says

By July 8, Adam Lee's 2nd birthday, he was counting to 10 and saying his ABCs.

He's so smart, his day-care teacher says, it's time for him to move up to the next class.

Denise Amber Lee would be proud of her boys' progress.

"He's got his mother's brains," said Nathan Lee, 25, of Adam, who was just 6 months old in January 2008 when his mother was abducted from their North Port home and killed.

Before she died, the softspoken, 21-year-old, stay-at-home mom spent time teaching her older son Noah, then 18 months, sign language.

Brothers Adam, now 2, and Noah, 3 1/2, are best friends.

"The two have 10,000 toys and fight over one," Nathan said jokingly of his sons' close bond. "They are doing great. They have their moments, but most days they don't have a care in the world and are smiling."

And they get a ton of love and support from their grandmothers, Peggy Lee and Susan Goff, at whose homes the boys spend a lot of time.

"When Denise was alive, we had a good relationship with our parents, but we didn't go over to their houses as often as we wanted," Nathan said. "Now the boys and I have (been at their houses) 1,000 times more. We are raising the boys together to help them be the best people they can be. We all feel our ultimate responsibility is to make Denise proud."

When Nathan, who now lives in Englewood, isn't spending time with his boys or the family, he works at Best Buy in Sarasota. Before accepting the job, Nathan explained he would need time off to travel as the president of the Denise Amber Lee Foundation. He also asked for a leave of absence during the upcoming trial of Michael King, the man accused of murdering his wife. Jury selection begins Monday in Sarasota.

The foundation was created last year to help fix the 911 system Nathan believes failed Denise the night she died.

He said none of the critical information provided by Tampa resident Jane Kowalski, the last potential witness to see his wife alive, was relayed to Charlotte County Sheriff's deputies or North Port police officers during the massive manhunt for Denise. Kowalski told the 911 operator what she was witnessing in the Camaro behind her, reportedly driven by King -- a young person screaming and slapping the car window.

North Port investigators learned about Kowalski only after she called police to share what she witnessed. Kowalski maintains that, following her nine-minute 911 call, the CCSO has never tried to call her again for any additional information.

Through the foundation, Nathan has lobbied in Tallahassee; Washington, D.C.; Texas; Orlando; and San Diego, Calif., for universal training for 911 operators and call-takers.

"Best Buy has been extremely courteous and sympathetic with me," he said. "They believe in this great cause and let me pursue traveling to conferences."

Nathan has been the guest speaker before thousands of first responders to tell Denise's story. He also has made appearances on the Today show, Dr. Phil, Dateline NBC, 20/20 and other broadcasts.

"This is an opportunity for our organization to reach across state lines and let our country know that the foundation's ultimate goal is to increase the level of training for 911 call-takers and dispatchers, eventually making these standards mandatory," he said.

In the fall, Nathan plans to travel to conferences in Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois.

To help generate funds for more trips for foundation members, Susan Goff, Denise's mother, and Peggy Lee worked together with a committee to publish a cookbook. Because Denise was an aspiring young cook, the two moms thought it would be fitting to create a cookbook featuring Denise's favorite recipes, along with those from dispatchers and first responders throughout the country and other parts of the world. They also received recipes from homicide survivors and members of Parents of Murdered Children. Other recipes are their loved ones' favorites.

The cover of "Heavenly Recipes" has a photo of Denise looking down from heaven at Noah and Adam playing on the beach. Inside are several photos of the boys cooking. There were 180 recipe submissions. Presale orders for the $18.95 cookbook currently are being taken on the foundation's Web site,

Along with the cookbook, the foundation is organizing another fundraiser, a golf tournament Oct. 10 at Plantation Golf and Country Club.

"The money raised helps us travel and get our message out," Nathan said.

Although he is constantly working and often is exhausted when he hits the pillow at night -- or the early morning hours -- he always kisses his boys goodnight and tells them he loves them.

"There are pictures of Denise all over the boys' room," Nathan said. "After the boys tell me they love me, they look at the pictures of Denise. Noah says, 'I love you Daddy,' and says goodnight to Denise too. Adam doesn't have memories of his mom, but he knows she is in heaven."



North Port Community News Editor

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

There is a God

911 operator in Lee murder case calls it quits


Aug 11, 2009 6:11 PM EDT

Aug 11, 2009 6:20 PM EDT

NORTH PORT: A 911 call made during the search for murder victim Denise Amber Lee in January 2008 cast a dark shadow on the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office. Now nearly 19 months later, the operator who took the call that sparked an internal investigation is calling it quits.

"She asked for a transfer into a slightly less stressful position of a district clerk," Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Cameron said.

We obtained a copy of Mildred Stepp's one-sentence letter to her supervisor, Capt. Ronald Chandler, requesting the move. Cameron says her recent performance was under review.

"Just lately her supervisor has been working with her on some performance issues, and you can imagine it's been a stressful year for her," Cameron said.

Witness Jane Kowalski called 911, describing a man driving a dark Camaro down US-41 with someone screaming in the back seat. But the call center never dispatched a deputy.

Prosecutors say it was Lee and suspect Michael King in the car.

Husband Nate Lee has criticized the 911 call center, leading an effort to bring state legislation to streamline training for 911 operators.

"I think it's long overdue and I definitely think the citizens of Charlotte County are better off without her as a 911 operator," Lee said. "She was really the last person that had an opportunity to do something to save my wife."

The failed response led to suspensions and mandatory retraining by those involved with botching the call.

Kowalski's call is back in the public spotlight as part of the state's case against King.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Deno Economou ruled the 911 call could be played for jurors.

King's trial begins Monday with jury selection at the Sarasota County Courthouse.

Meanwhile, Stepp will still be taking calls as a clerk inside the district office at the Port Charlotte Town Center mall.

"Everybody sometime in there career needs a break," Cameron said. "I think that's Millie's asking for - a little break."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Newspapers and interviews

Mark and I have been asked to do an interview tomorrow on how our family is preparing for the trial.

I've been thinking about this and what is there to say? How do you prepare for something like this?

We are preparing for this with a lot of anger, a lot of tears and a lot of heartache. We want justice for Denise. I can't stop thinking of the way she suffered.

For over a year now I've done my best not to expend emotional energy on the person who did this. I've tried my damndest to not think of him. And now we have to.

I'm very proud of Nathan and how well he's doing. I can't say more than that. My heart breaks for him though.

But, there is light. The trial is just another hurdle. A painful hurdle but an important one. We have great faith in the prosecuting team. We have faith in the evidence and the case. I only wish the perpetrator could suffer the way she did.