When Frank Racibozynski thinks about his daughter, he sees snapshots — Andrea in a yellow dress in downtown Naperville her freshman year at Knox, Andrea splashing water into his face at a swimming pool in St. Louis, where they had vacationed one year — but it’s more a feeling than a picture.
It’s an “Andrea sighting.”
That’s the term the Racibozynskis and Andrea’s friends use to describe the coincidental events that occur while thinking about Andrea. The day she died, the weather was gloomy, but the day after, the forsythias on the side of the house were in bloom.
Andrea Racibozynski is the only student to have ever been killed on the Knox College campus. The murder instigated a conversation on campus about an increased need for lighting and safety, and the Racibozynskis won a $1 million dollar lawsuit against Knox that ultimately was taken to the Illinois Supreme Court. They alleged that Knox provided insufficient lighting and security on campus that may have prevented Andrea’s death.
In an interview with The Knox Student, Frank and his wife Sharon spoke jubilantly at their kitchen table in Naperville – the same kitchen Andrea and her sister Christina grew up in. Sometimes, they would get quiet for a moment, their voices catching and their eyes tearing up at the thought of Andrea’s death, which they declined to talk about. This time of year – from her birthday on February 20 until the end of March – is the hardest for them.
Instead, they choose to laugh at the way Andrea could get a packed gymnasium of people to laugh at a simple joke, or her commitment to the Naperville Central High School Spirits, her flag team, that brought her family to competitions all around the state. Frank laughs at the way she would draw out the word “Daaad” — it’s something he warns all fathers of teenage girls about.
They pulled out half a dozen photos of Andrea and her sister as young girls. After Andrea died, Frank stopped taking photos so avidly. They pulled out a few of Andrea in her Spirits drill team uniform, and they recalled their daughter leading the cheer of the Naperville Central High School Spirits that reverberated in many a gymnasium during a drill team competition: “5, 6, 7, 8. We love you Spirits!”
Seventeen years ago, Andrea was killed in the entryway to Seymour Union by another student. She was 19 years old.
Spring Term had begun, and students were back on campus. The weather on Saturday, March 28, 1998 was 53 degrees and clear.
“Everyone was out partying. It was a nice night, so that was memorable, and then this happened and it made it more memorable,” said Jennifer Walters ’99.
Andrea was walking back from a party at Sigma Nu with a group of freshman, among them Clyde Best, another freshman from Las Vegas. The group dispersed, and Best went to drop his coat off in his dorm in Seymour. When Andrea told him she had changed her mind and didn’t want to go back to Sigma Nu, they began to argue in the west stairwell of Seymour Union.
Upstairs in Seymour, Susannah Gawor ’99 was staying the night with her boyfriend, an RA in Seymour Hall. She was woken up when the police came to the door to ask if they knew anything. People didn’t have Facebook or cell phones, but the campus knew something had happened. She didn’t sleep that night.
The last time Chris Autrey ’01 saw Andrea was at the Sigma Nu party, but he left before she and Best did. He wonders what would have happened if he hadn’t left the party early.
“It feels like a lifetime ago and I don’t know if it was just part of the circumstances, but it was just burned in my head,” he said.
Downstairs in Seymour, a student found Andrea in the stairwell. He sprinted upstairs to call 911 from the second floor because the phone on the ground floor was dead. Police arrived and found Best in his Seymour dorm room hours after the argument with Andrea. Best was immediately questioned and arrested for first-degree murder. Hours later, he confessed to the crime. In court, he pleaded guilty but mentally ill.
“We didn’t cope. It was surreal. It was traumatizing for most of us,” Rabbi Adam Scheldt ’01 said. “I think the college didn’t really know what to do at large, and didn’t know what to do with us.”
Now, as a community leader, he wonders if he would have handled it differently.
Carolyn Bathgate née Schneck ’01 lived in Andrea’s tight-knit suite, Campbell-Elder 3. She struggled with her grades, but her professors gave her opportunities to make up for missed classes and assignments.
“They made a grief counselor available to us, brought us our mail so we didn’t have to walk into the stairwell where Andrea’s body was found, even had meals delivered the first few days,” she said in an email.
The school held a forum the day after, and held memorial services on campus. Scheldt remembers a candlelight vigil, and looking down at his own wax-covered hands. Newspaper clippings from the time described a campus split in two, but most alumni remember the campus simply being shell-shocked.
“Looking back on it, it feels surreal. I can’t say to what extent we’ve all healed, but it’s something you don’t get over. You just learn to move on. The sun always goes down, and it always comes up, and it’s always a new day, but it was very strange.”
Clyde Best was ultimately sentenced to 60 years in prison after he beat Andrea to death with a brick that was lying next to a radiator in his Seymour Hall dorm upstairs.
Andrea’s death sparked a discussion about safety concerns on campus. Since her death, the college has invested in better lighting and infrastructure on campus. Knox also looked closer at drinking in fraternity houses.
“There wasn’t anything marked overnight. It was a lot more subtle,” Gawor said.
Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf was the chief of police for the Galesburg Police Department at the time and said he hasn’t forgotten Andrea’s death. He still thinks about the Racibozynskis, particularly when he walks by Andrea’s memorial near Post Hall.
“I think ‘senseless tragedy.’ And I think I’m probably a little more sensitive now than I was after coming here, because you build relationships with students … it’s just intensified how tragic and how senseless it was,” he said.
Since 1998, Schlaf has noticed an improved relationship and cooperation between students and officers, which he gives credit to both parties for. He noted recent security improvements, including the incorporation of the RAVE Guardian system, a smartphone app that allows students to report suspicious incidents on campus.
David Christensen, now the Galesburg Chief of Police, was a detective for GPD in 1998. He remembers the pall of sorrow on campus and in town.
“You had a couple of promising young adults. One’s deceased and one’s going to be in a prison for 60 years, so there’s no positive spin on it at all,” Christensen said. “It was tragic for all involved, and it was so senseless. Absolutely senseless.”
Galesburg Police Officer Tom LaFollette was the first to arrive to Seymour that night. In his time at GPD, he had seen a lot of murder scenes, but none as bad as that.
“I don’t forget it. I’ll put it that way … I could tell you exactly what took place.”
LaFollette and current Knox County Sherriff David Clague, who worked as a sergeant at the time, were present when Best confessed to his crime. He spoke in a monotone, which is unusual for a murder suspect, LaFollette said in an interview with TKS.
“People would be crying for one of two reasons: they’re either upset about it or they’re sorry they’re going to prison or jail for a period of time,” LaFollette said. TKS attempted to contact Best at the Illinois River Correctional Center in Canton, Ill., but prison officials did not respond to an interview request.
Kit Kelly ’00 remembers standing on the Phi Gamma Delta porch and hearing multiple sirens come from the safety building next to the fraternity house.
“I had seen enough criminal stuff to not be desensitized to that, but to accept it exists. It can happen to anybody,” said Kelly, who paid his way through school as an EMT. “But the thing that always makes me sad is every time I go on shift one of the things we deal with on shift is mental illness. Sometimes mental illness doesn’t show up until the act is occurred.”
After Andrea’s death, Brynn Seibert ’01 and other students lobbied for better lighting on campus, and for peepholes in the townhouses. They also pushed for RAs for all residential buildings, not just freshman dorms.
“And the question was how do you stay safe when it’s another student?” Gawor said. “So I think there was a new normal found within an awareness. It’s like any loss in a community — you try to remember and celebrate, but it was always felt.”
She would have graduated from Knox in 2001. She would have become a writer, her parents say. But she was also an actress. She could be dramatic. She was involved in her church, and she liked animals.
Sharon calls Andrea her “Renaissance daughter.”
Her headstone has sunflowers engraved on it, and her friends left multiple stuffed Disney characters. She loved Winnie the Pooh.
She had a strong sense of right and wrong, and handed out conversation hearts to everyone she knew on her first Valentine’s Day at Knox.
She loved the band Toad and the Wet Sprocket, and went to every concert she could. In her bedroom at home, glow-in-the-dark stars were taped to the ceiling, and posters of the band covered her aqua-colored walls.
Scheldt said she would play their music whenever she could on her WVKC radio show. They’d both sit up in the station together, but Scheldt said that she took it more seriously than he did.
But she wasn’t a serious person – Scheldt uses the words “silly, sweet and goofy” to describe her.
“You would have your eyes closed, there could be loud music, and if she just walked in the room you knew she was there,” he said.
She was a typical Knox student – involved in several clubs and friendly to everyone. She and her friends from Campbell 3 would steal trays from the Caf and sled in the Knosher Bowl, and spend a lot of time in the Gizmo. They’d play loud music and dance in the Quads.
Like most students, she despised her FACES photo. That’s how she met David Chatfield ’00 who worked in the Office of Communications. He was in charge of the Knox student directory and she came in asking if she could retake her photo. Chatfield was friends with one of her suitemates, and ultimately he was “adopted” into the suite, like Scheldt was. He remembers her smile most.
Even during Winter Term when “everyone’s yelling and stressed out” she was still bubbly and smiling, he said. She was a genuine person.
He imagines seeing photos of her and her family on his Facebook feed. If she were still alive, she would have been the core of their friends, keeping everyone together. She would have kept in touch with everyone.
After Andrea died, one of her friends’ little brothers was upset. He asked his mom to explain the ‘Andrea sightings.’
“Well, would it be like I’m thinking of Andrea, and a rabbit runs across the yard?” he asked his mom.
No, she told him. It’s nothing like that.
Just then, they turned around and looked out the window, and a rabbit ran across the yard.
Chatfield remembers after she died, brown doves started showing up around campus, and one came and perched on his windowsill in Furrow. It was his Andrea sighting.
“I’m agnostic, leaning on atheist, but if there’s an angel, she’s that,” he said.
Rabbi Adam Scheldt lights a candle for Andrea every time he’s near a Catholic Church.
“Regardless of what we believe or don’t believe in … there’s something about her presence in my own memory and having been blessed to have her part of my own story that’s with me and makes my life better,” he said.
At Andrea’s gravesite after her funeral, Frank said that there was something everyone could do to help.
“I said I’d like all of the Spirits and all of the Spirits’ family to give Andrea a cheer,” Frank said.
Somebody counted out “5, 6, 7, 8” and the crowd burst into a roar: “We love you Andrea!”