In January 2008 Brianna Dension was abducted in Reno, Nevada. Actually, she was taken from a house right next to campus. A house that I walked by every single day this fall to get to my classes from my car. A house that was only 2 blocks from where I lived all last year while attending UNR. In February her body was found in a field quite a ways away from campus. This was an eye opener for me, and I am sure many other in the Reno/Tahoe/UNR communities as well.
I did not know Brianna, but a lot of my friends that had grown up in the Reno/Sparks/Tahoe area did. They had nothing but nice things to say about her. I am sure that by the way she was so positively spoken about that she was an absolute delight to be around.
When I moved to Reno in the fall of '05 I remember always being on my toes about my surroundings. I had gone from a town of 2,000 people to city with 218,000 people. A big change. In Crested Butte you never heard of abductions or murders or things such as that....occasionally the cops would bust a person for growing marijuana, or perhaps some underage drinking but nothing even close to the equivalence of this case. During my first semester at UNR there was the "thruster" which we had to worry about...and all my pledging sorority sisters and friends kept a watchful eye out for each other. Soon I found myself back in Crested Butte for the next several months -- skipping out on a semester at UNR. When I finally decided to move back to Reno it was a year free of complications, I felt safe where I was -- the occasional nightmare would keep me laying awake staring at my ceiling until the sun came up in the morning. Sirens rushing down I-80 would bounce through our windows at night when it would be so hot inside that it was the only way to clear the stuffy house -- but, there was nothing ever to worry about. The school year ended and I was back in Crested Butte, or I guess what I could call pleasantville where the only thing to worry about was the bear getting into your trash or maybe taking a stroll down Elk avenue after the bars had closed at 2 am. I guess you could say that I lost my alertness -- I was now looking forward to moving back to a "city" and having a fast paced lifestyle again. I tried not to over analyze everything that was going around me. I knew that if I was over alert than I would worry myself.
Christmas break was just ending in January. Both Chelsey and I were back at the apartment, most likely totally vegged out on the couch glued to our ginormous television reminiscing about home cooked meals and comparing gifts from the holidays. The news didn't come to quickly to us about Brianna being abducted. I want to say it may have been maybe a day, possibly two before we heard about what was going on. I think we first heard from an e-mail I got from a family friend -- and then we went right to google to see what on earth was going on. Then...it all made sense...this was why we were hearing the choppers all day and night long. This was why the police were everywhere...why people were saying be extra careful. If I recall correctly, Chelsey and some other friends were actually at the casino that night where the party was being held before the abduction happened. Nothing seemed suspicious. Yah, we had all been reminded about being alert because of the sexual assaults that had been happening around town...but not to the extent that we would think a person would be missing in the morning. I remember when reality set in and I realized that what had happened was serious. No longer could I be the carefree college student, but, now I really had to pay attention. I had to make sure I was safe and so were my other girlfriends around me. Knowing that weeks had gone by and no one had been caught yet made living and going to school at UNR a little scary. I was terrified to leave my night classes. I hated when I was home alone and Chelsey was in LA working. I spent countless nights sitting wide awake with all the lights on in the apartment because I was so nervous about being intruded upon by the person that abducted Dension. I hated going out to my car at night. I couldn't stand being in the gym when the sun would start to set. I made sure all the curtains were shut well before the sun was down and that I didn't stand close to windows after dark; therefore in my mind no silhouette could be seen -- I slept with pepper spray under my pillow, or sometimes grasped tight in my hand..I would lock all the doors and windows immediately after entering the house. I would sit and listen to silence and try to see if I could hear anything -- the slightest noise would make me jump: the fridge, A/C and heat turning on to the boys downstairs. I was scared--but I didn't want anyone to know...especially my family. I remember watching the news and reading about the body being discovered, it put me at ease...but only for a short time. I knew that the killer was still out there. I tried to avoid reading about what the latest finds were...but when you are a criminal justice student avoiding local legal cases is hard to do. Nothing new had come up with the case for months.
I moved again. I was living on campus. 2 blocks away from where Denison was taken from. I was on my toes constantly. I knew that safety was going to be an issue. I took all the precautions possible when I lived downtown -- I did not want to scare myself, nor did I want to scare my family (so now I guess the truth comes out about how I spent months of my college career locked in my house). I was in New Hampshire for Thanksgiving -- I had become a daily RGJ reader. They had found a suspect! James Biela. A weight lifted. I knew that I would be a little bit safer when I went back to Reno -- but still, there was no excuse for letting my awareness of surroundings become shotty again. I guess for most cities...this kinda' stuff is normal...but for a small town ski gal these were big events. It is funny to think that I am moving to an even bigger place now....but...I have learned how important being alert is. Even after Biela was taken into custody I did not let my personal safety slide -- I kept doing the same regimen as before (I still find myself doing it today) -- there is something about windows and not having locked doors that just terrify me.
Today, James Biela was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Right where he should be. No family should ever have to go through the pain that he put Brianana's family and friends through. Brianna deserved to live and to experience life and touch the lives of other people with her (from what I hear) infectious positive attitude. Like I said above, I did not know her personally, I only was told stories -- stories from the heart. Stories from friends who loved this young soul dearly and wanted to pass on the memories and lessons that were learned and gathered by the situation which she endured.
It may sound funny, but, I want to thank her -- these youthful girl opened my eyes and made me aware of the lifestyle and self awareness that I had "thrown out the window" -- the comfort that I had adjusted to, which was comfortable at all....it was just me being naive. It is sad that it took something like this incident to awaken me (and I am sure many other college students). My heart goes out to her family and friends -- I am so glad to hear that Biela was sentenced the way that he was. GOOD!
More about the latest in the Brianna Denison case