FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. – How do you go on with everyday life when there is an empty seat at the table?
On October 25, Rolf and Nancy Olson, of Falcon Heights, gathered their kids and grandkids for a spaghetti dinner, kicked off by a prayer.
The night marked the 10th anniversary of their daughter’s death.
“Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord,” they sang, holding hands around the table. “For giving me the things I need, the sun, and the rain, and the apple seed.”
Katherine Ann Olson, 24, was shot and killed ten years ago when she answered a babysitting ad on Craigslist. When she arrived at the home in Savage, a 19-year-old man shot her in the back. He is now serving a life sentence in prison.
Her murder drew international attention, as it was the first known homicide linked to Craigslist, sounding an alarm of the dangers of the internet.
A decade later, her parents choose to focus not on the way she left the world, but the goodness she continues to inspire.
“We believe Katherine is living in the light, the light of Christ, and why would we go to the darkness and away from that, because when we are in the light we are closer to Katherine,” said Rolf Olson, a retired pastor.
Her gravestone is etched with the words: “the girl who looked like sunshine”, the words a child used to describe her following her death.
So, on the 10th anniversary of losing Katherine, her parents turned to her Facebook page titled “Remembering Katherine Ann Olson” to illuminate her memory. They asked loved ones to share 10 days of memories or donate $10 dollars to a scholarship fund for Latino students at St. Olaf, where Katherine majored in Hispanic studies, a culture she loved.
“It’s important to us that we have stories and reflections we continue to hear, even if they are old stories, they are wonderfully healing and funny and we are so grateful for people’s generosity in sharing,” said Nancy Olson. “She lived her life to the fullest and that is what we try to continue to do.”
For Nancy, an English teacher, healing comes with telling her daughter's story. She describes her daughter with a proud smile.
“She was zany, quirky, brilliant, funny, maddening, a total chaotic mess. You could follow her track through the house by this exuberant mess she left behind. She was just so funny,” said Nancy Olson.
Pastor Rolf Olson describes the past decade as coming through a crisis of faith, and wrestling with the meaning and choice of forgiveness.
“That is what we have done with the situation with Katherine’s murderer. We had released his toxic power from our family. So, we can move on,” he said. “I found great comfort in the fact that Jesus went through horrible experience in this world and came back and said love wins, life wins, God is more powerful than the evil in this world, so I have had to hang on to that.”
The Olson family now includes four children who are Katherine’s nieces and nephews. They ended their prayer in unison, raising their glasses.
“God Bless Katherine. God Bless Katherine.”
Almost 90 people donated to St. Olaf scholarship in Katherine's memory, raising almost $7-thousand dollars.
All gifts to the endowed scholarship total $160,000 since it was created. If you’d like to help, visit here. You can specify the Katherine Ann Olson scholarship in the form.