South Park attack victim wants to 'fight the fear'
Five months after a stranger broke into her home, raping and stabbing her and her partner, a South Park woman is picking up the pieces of her life.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The knife slashes on her neck have started to fade, but falling asleep in the quiet darkness is still filled with terror and violent memories for the 37-year-old Seattle woman.
On a night five months ago, her life was forever changed by a stranger who crept into the South Park home she shared with her partner, Teresa Butz. For 90 minutes the two women were raped, tortured and stabbed until Butz, 39, fought back and jumped out a window, allowing the other woman to escape.
Butz died from her wounds.
Five days later, on July 24, Isaiah Kalebu, a man with a history of mental illness, was arrested in North Seattle and subsequently charged with aggravated murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree rape and first-degree burglary. Prosecutors are weighing whether to pursue the death penalty against him.
The apparently random attack — police and prosecutors say the victims had no connection to Kalebu — sent a chill through the community that resonated well beyond the South Park neighborhood.
The surviving victim hasn't spoken publicly about what happened inside their home during the early-morning hours of July 19 and says she isn't ready to see her name in print alongside details of the attack. But she said she wants people to know she's trying to move ahead with her life despite memories that are difficult to shake.
One way she's doing that is pushing for women to learn how to defend themselves, an effort she says honors Butz.
After losing her partner and best friend, the woman remains afraid of the dark and hates to be alone — she can't sleep at night unless a friend is close by. She worries about again being the victim of an attack by a stranger.
"Once you see the face of evil, [another attack] just seems more plausible," the woman said recently while sipping on a mug of hot cocoa inside a Capitol Hill coffee shop. "I cannot close my eyes without worrying that I'll wake up to something like this again."
Rebuilding her life
The shock of what happened and the constant support from friends and family made the first two months after the attack pass quickly, the woman said. She kept busy, returning to work two weeks later. She also began intense counseling.
Through counseling, she said she has realized that she will never be the same. "Teresa and I created a home together and in one fell swoop it was gone," she said.
She declined to talk about the attack, saying she doesn't want to jeopardize the prosecution. She also refuses to say whether she believes Kalebu should face the death penalty. She does plan to testify if the case goes to trial.
"I have a job to do and that's telling the truth," she said softly.
People who meet the woman are surprised that someone who has endured such pain and brutality can get up in the morning, go to work and just keep moving.
"I made a decision, once I knew I would live, and that was to live," she said. "I'm better now and every day I'm a little better."
Seattle police Detective Dana Duffy, one of the lead investigators on the case, describes her as "beautiful inside and out." The two women have become good friends.
"She has a strong but peaceful and loving character, beautiful spirit, an open and calming personality," Duffy said."I bonded with her instantly and knew we would be friends despite the horrific situation."
The woman has moved out of the South Park home she shared with Butz and is living with a friend in a Capitol Hill apartment.
Authorities have credited Butz with saving her partner's life. Toward the end of the 90-minute attack, when Butz saw her partner being stabbed, Butz kicked the man off the bed, court charging papers said.
Butz then was stabbed in the chest and arm, but somehow managed to hurl a nightstand through the bedroom window, charging papers said. Butz leapt from the window, creating enough of a distraction for her partner to bolt for the front door.
When the woman got outside, standing naked and screaming in the street, she said she knew she would live because she didn't collapse. She then heard sirens approaching.
The woman didn't know the extent of Butz's injuries until detectives told her at the hospital.
"Her actions saved my life," she said. "I'll never know why I survived that."
The woman said she believes that Kalebu targeted their home just because they had left a window open on a hot summer night.
"She was extraordinary"
She met Butz in July 2007 when they worked in the same office building. Butz worked at a firm that provides office space to businesses, and the younger woman worked at a Seattle company that finds jobs for freelance writers and artists.
Butz came off as open, honest, funny and compassionate, the woman said. The two shared a love for music, particularly singer Patty Griffin and the Indigo Girls. Their relationship developed easily.
On their first date the two women were walking along Broadway, on Capitol Hill, when Butz stopped to talk to a panhandler. Butz wanted to know why the young man was there, what was going on in his life. She gave him some change and told him, "You can have better than this," her former partner recalled.
"She's the most funny, quirky, compassionate, joyful person I ever met," the woman said emotionally. "She was extraordinary."
After a year of dating, the couple began planning a commitment ceremony. They picked out diamond wedding bands and planned to invite 120 people to their ceremony at a yacht club on Lake Union on Sept. 12.
But the ceremony became a memorial service.
On Sept. 12, more than 200 people showed up to eulogize and remember Butz. The woman sang at the memorial, along with Butz's brother and the Total Experience Gospel Choir.
At the end of the service, the band that was supposed to perform at the couple's commitment ceremony played "Proud Mary," one of Butz's favorite dance tunes. People danced, laughed and sang along.
The woman still wears her diamond band, as well as pearl and diamond earrings that Butz planned to wear to their commitment ceremony.
Oct. 19, on what would have been Butz's birthday, her partner and family got together for lasagna and chocolate cake — Butz's traditional birthday meal.
Moving toward healing
It wasn't until October that the woman realized it was time to slow down and focus on healing, and to honor Butz's life. She laughed as she recounted Butz's holiday traditions, which included hanging cherished ornaments on the tree, watching the movie "Elf" and christening Christmas morning with an Entenmann's chocolate doughnut and a mimosa. She plans to continue Butz's beloved traditions.
The woman has also joined "Fight The Fear Campaign: The Quest for Confidence Through Strength, Inspired by the Life of Teresa Butz," a project to promote self-defense and awareness for women. The project, sponsored by Seattle police, the Seattle Neighborhood Group, the Looking out Foundation, Seven Stars Women's Kung Fu and Seattle Kajukenbo, will launch next month.
"It was ultimately Teresa's bravery and ability to think physically that saved my life," the woman said. "Teresa would see this as a positive, healing movement. It's about taking a bad situation that left everyone scared and turning it around and creating a movement where people can take back their safety."
She is planning to enroll in self-defense classes herself, and to attend "Fight the Fear" events.
She admits she fights fear every day.
"To this day I don't go anywhere on my own in the dark," the woman said.
She said she thinks often about a novel she and Butz read last summer about spirituality in the time of tragedy.
The book, called "The Shack," is about a man whose daughter is abducted and murdered and his ensuing struggle to maintain his religious faith. The woman said that in the midst of the attack she kept thinking about the novel. She said she "felt God's presence and pain."
"Survival is about being part of the world, not getting lost in the fear ... not getting lost in the sadness," the woman said. "It's about making lemonade.
"I don't have a choice. I have what I have."
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or email@example.com
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