A year ago today, early in the afternoon, a 21-year-old UW student, Brittany Zimmermann, was apparently stabbed and beaten to death in her apartment near campus on Doty Street. By most credible accounts, her last living act was to call the Dane County 9-1-1 center, but no one came to help her. Her fiancé found her body, in a scene that was so horrible he thought she had been shot to death.
In the year that has passed, we still know very little more than we did when the horrible crime happened. Media requests for more information about her last phone call have gone largely unanswered. Quite a few people have heard the tape of the call - union representatives, high-ranking county government officials, a few lawyers and a judge, but the media and public have not. So we can’t really decide for ourselves how badly the call was botched.
The man who ran the 9-1-1 center at the time of the botched call, Joe Norwick, stonewalled everybody, and eventually “retired” when the public outcry became so loud that not even the County Executive, Kathleen Falk, could protect her hand-picked 9-1-1 manager any longer. Falk is being challenged for the County Exec’s job in an election a few days away, by a woman who has made the botched call and ensuing cover-up the central issue of the campaign.
A year ago, I was still working as a news anchor, and the Brittany Zimmermann story grabbed my gut like the story of another of Madison’s unsolved murders, that of Kelly Nolan, the young co-ed who disappeared on a June night in 2007 and whose decomposing body was found a couple weeks later, miles from the downtown bars where she was last seen. I am the father of a daughter who is close in age to both Brittany Zimmermann and Kelly Nolan, and at the time of the Zimmermann murder, my daughter was living just a few blocks away from Zimmermann’s apartment.
After the Kelly Nolan disappearance, my wife and I had a long talk with our daughter about being safe downtown. Young people think they’re indestructible and that bad things only happen to other people. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m saying. Two murderers of young ladies are still out there, somewhere.
After the Brittany Zimmermann murder and the obvious wagon-circling and months of coverup from public officials, my blood got hotter every time a new facet of the story would be uncovered by hard-working local reporters.
Every decent parent has a huge drive to protect their children, to keep them safe, to teach them how to get along in the world, and to do it in a way that doesn’t stunt their ability to make a life for themselves.
I’m disgusted with all these public officials who have obviously told so many lies about the Zimmermann case. I’m angry that the whole thing has become a political football and not a concerted effort to find out what went wrong and fix it. All I want is the same thing any parent would want - if my daughter calls 9-1-1, I want someone to come to her aid pronto. And I want the same for every parent of every child in Dane County and everywhere else.