Everyone just stopped talking.
It was 1972 and we Boulder kids got only the barest, terrifying details before silence set in: Two 11-year-old girls — one on her birthday — had been kidnapped near the University Hill home of the birthday girl.
At 11, I didn’t grasp all of it. One girl, Jessica Schaffner, was killed. Her friend Annabelle Kindig (our parents were friends, though I only met her once or twice) survived, even after “The Monster” — a man who had pulled a gun and forced them into his motor home — handcuffed them, assaulted them, tossed over a cliff in Sunshine Canyon and shot them in the back.
But Annabelle survived. Severely wounded, she found the courage to pull lifeless Jessica’s hand from the cuffs and drag herself up to the road, bloody and dazed.
“I felt a wave of fear engulf me when a momentary thought that The Monster might have doubled back,” Annabelle Kindig Miglia writes in her forthcoming self-published memoir, “Footsteps Out of Darkness,” co-written with Joyce Godwin Grubbs. Though troubled that her friend’s prayers had not saved her life, she decided to trust in God, and the next vehicle belonged to Gold Hill resident Jack Laughlin, who picked her up.
Amazingly, the local volunteer fire department was meeting next door to Jack’s home, and emergency personnel administered emergency first aid until an ambulance arrived and took her to Boulder Community Hospital.
Jessica’s murderer, Peter Roy Fisher, who sexually assaulted both girls before shooting them, was caught soon after, thanks to Annabelle’s description of his vehicle. He later told police that gunning down the girls had been like shooting deer.
But this was 1972, and other assaults were soon under way.
First, the girls’ names were splashed all over the local media.
“Articles … speculated as to whether sexual assaults had occurred,” Annabelle writes.
Later the law forced the little girl to face her attacker in court.
“No television, closed-caption testimony or screen to protect me from appearing in person,” she writes.
And there was the long assault of silence.
“I felt like an alien. Everybody’s life marched on like nothing had happened and I felt like nobody cared about what had happened to me,” she said when we spoke last week. “People were told never to talk about it. The school told everyone. Parents told their kids. … I was in it all by myself.” Even her family hushed up.
When her parents finally did seek help for her, the psychiatrist began by telling Annabelle how much men enjoy oral sex, how normal it was. Next time, she brought her protective older sister Mayme, who saw through the creepy quack and quickly put an end to his “therapy.”
Unsurprisingly, Annabelle soon was “acting out,” as we would say in 2012 — drug use and promiscuous sex, dropping out, anything to subconsciously treat the bottled up horror, the brutal silence.
“So many questions that were tearing me apart would enter my mind at night.” Why did I survive? — “The anxiety, sadness and depression were building,” she writes.
But this was 1972. Everyone just dismissed her as a rebellious teenager.
But all that is just prelude.
Here’s what Annabelle wrote to Fisher in a 2001 letter: She survived. She’s happy, “a strong young woman … a loving, caring, nurturing mother and wife. In some ways what you did allowed me to become a stronger person.”
She forgives the man — that twisted, cowardly man — and The Monster no longer haunts her. But, she also wrote, “You will pay the price for what you did for all eternity.”
And surely Fisher never imagined that his cold-hearted depravity inspired some amazing people in Boulder County to form Humans Against Rape and Molestation, known 40 years later as MESA — Moving to End Sexual Assault. Thanks in part to Annabelle, survivors are less victimized by a callous system.
Annabelle didn’t know it until decades later, but the terrible tragedy she and Jessica endured would help generations of survivors to follow. A painfully, tragically bought gift, to be sure; we owe them our deepest thanks.
And here’s one more thing Fisher ought to know: It took many years, and many loving, caring people like her sister Mayme, her son Derek and husband Dave, former District Attorney Alex Hunter, former Sheriff Brad Leach, Jack Laughlin and all the Gold Hill saviors, to help her evolve into a mature faith.
“As a child, I guess I thought God wouldn’t let bad things happen to people who believed, like a golden armor around them,” she says. “Now I know that with your faith you can get through tough times. It’s a spiritual thing, not a cloak of armor.”
Annabelle Kindig Miglia will be on hand to sign her book and help MESA celebrate its 40th anniversary from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8 at the Hotel Boulderado. To purchase tickets, go to movingtoendsexualassault.com or call 303-443-0400. RSVP by Nov. 2.