On Valentine’s Day 2010, my phone rang. It was my best friend of 15 years, Katie. I picked up and said, “Hello?”
“There’s a bullet in my parents’ bedroom ceiling,” she said.
This should have been shocking, but it wasn’t. A one-word explanation came to me instantly.
“David,” I said.
“David,” she repeated. “There’s a bullet hole in my parents’ bedroom ceiling, Steph.” When she said my name, her voice cracked, and that was shocking. Katie never wavered, and certainly never broke. She was always the steady one, the one who made plans and arrangements. Sometimes her plans seemed outlandish, like when, the summer before her junior year, she asked her parents to send her to boarding school, just because she wanted to get out of the house. That plan had worked briefly—the only problem was that instead of Europe or even the East Coast like she’d fantasized about, they sent her to Iowa. Everyone at the school there was smoking meth, she’d told me, and I had to persuade her parents to pull her out of there. Other plans she made were more practical, like when she took pictures of her mother’s bruises and made her go to the police to report the assault, or when she tried to send her parents to visit relatives in California just to get them out of the house. These plans didn’t work because her parents never saw them through.
David was Katie’s younger brother. He had been terrorizing the whole family for many years. He chased her around the house, brandishing a knife, when he was five and she was eight. She often ditched school, and I was one of the few people who knew she wasn’t being rebellious, she just needed to get some sleep, because David had kept her up all night ranting and raving, making threats, and throwing things. She went to the cops on her own a few times as a teenager and was told things like “You don’t want to turn your own brother in over a little sibling squabble.” On several occasions, on the phone or over coffee at Denny’s, where the teenage girls at other tables were planning for prom, Katie walked me through what she would do in the event that David killed her parents. This was her normal. It was our normal. All I felt like I could do for years was listen. But I couldn’t listen to her break.
On the phone that Valentine’s Day, she said she’d just talked to her dad, who told her that David had held him and Katie’s mother hostage at gunpoint for an entire day and wouldn’t leave until his father had withdrawn $5,000 from the bank and begun the process of transferring both the house and the parents’ retirement account to David’s name. Then David had his dad drive him to the airport and buy him a plane ticket to Florida.
“I don’t know what to do,” Katie said, for once unable to come up with a plan.
“You are going to drive to my house and pick me up,” I instructed her. “Then we are going to your parents’ house, and we are not leaving until they call the police and the police take this seriously. This is ending today. You can’t go through this anymore.”
I don’t think she believed me, but she was too deeply in shock to object, so she said OK. It took about an hour for us to persuade her parents to call the police. They didn’t believe they would do anything. And they thought David would find out and come back and kill them and Katie.
The police took them very seriously, though. They got Katie’s parents out of the house and set up watch, waiting for David to come back, as he threatened he would in a week. He was arrested in Florida before that and was extradited back to Illinois, where the state’s attorney put together a case against him. This time the situation was too serious for Katie’s parents to back out of pressing charges like they had in the past. The case took over two years to go to trial, but David was finally sentenced to 30 years in prison, and Katie and her parents were promised that the absolute minimum time he’d serve was 27 years.
Katie hasn’t talked to David in a year and a half, though her parents are still in contact with him. She recently told me that she wanted to share her story with Rookie, because while David’s presence loomed over and shaped most of her life, but his violence and threats made her feel especially lonely and helpless when she was a teenager. We got together on Skype, and she told me her story. Here’s the transcript.
STEPHANIE: As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been living with your brother’s threats and violent behavior. I was 15 when we met, you were 14, and David was how old?
KATIE: He’s two and a half years younger than me. So he was like 11 or 12.
How long had he been behaving violently at that point?
It really began when he was about 10, though he’d shown streaks of violence prior to that.
I remember you telling me about his chasing you around with a knife when you were little kids, which is not exactly normal sibling play.
I know it got worse later, but when you and I started hanging out early in high school, what was a typical David outburst like, and how often did they happen?
He was in junior high then, and his outbursts were pretty much daily. They usually were spurred by his not getting something he wanted. Like, if he wanted shoes and they were $120 and he didn’t get them, he would pitch a fit, usually slamming doors or threatening to break things or punching the wall and screaming at the top of his lungs and just demanding that people get him these things. He’d tell my parents, “You promised,” and “Don’t make me do these things to you.”
You were 13 or 14 then. Did you think of his behavior as normal, or did you know that this was not the way things should be?
It was my normal, but I knew it wasn’t everyone else’s because I’d go to other people’s houses and they didn’t have, like, someone tearing down a door. Seeing other people and their families, it was like, OK, this really isn’t normal.
I can’t even imagine. When I met you, before I knew about David, I thought, This girl is so badass. You didn’t seem to go to school much, and somehow you didn’t get into any trouble for it. I thought, She either has no rules at home or refuses to follow them, because you could stay out as late as you wanted, you slept over at my house whenever you wanted, and you used to sleep over at [our mutual friend] Ben’s house, too, right?
Did he and his family know what was going on?
Yeah, to an extent. I was constantly at Ben’s house, and crashing there just kind of became a thing. We never talked about it—I don’t remember talking about it ever—but I think his parents kind of knew, because I would always be like, “I’ll meet you outside” or use other evasive tactics so people wouldn’t come by my house. I think a lot of parents kind of knew.