From the Brink

Danielle Keener MacGuire takes back the night

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William Babner in a police mug shotNINE YEARS AGO, Danielle and Dan Zapp, then a student at Carnegie Mellon University, were victims of a brutal crime. Danielle, a native of Goldsboro in York County, Pa., and Dan, from Bethlehem, Pa., were on a second date. It was Saturday, Jan. 8, an unseasonably warm day.

The two had plans to meet friends later in the afternoon but had a few hours to while away. Wearing only light jackets, they walked from Danielle’s parents’ home to a marina and park on the Susquehanna River, where they strolled along the bank and skipped stones across the river. It was nearing 3 p.m. when a man got out of a red pickup truck with his dog, a Rottweiler named Sam.

He engaged the two in small talk about his dog and other things. “He seemed pleasant enough but a little bit strange,” Danielle recalls. It was apparent he had been drinking, and after a few minutes, he asked them if they needed a ride. They politely declined, and the man got back into his truck and drove away.

The two continued to walk down the road, and as the sun began to lower in the sky, they turned back. Nobody else was in the park now. They saw the same pickup truck re-enter the park and watched as it drove by. They picked up their pace but a few minutes later heard the truck returning from behind. In an instant, it pulled up alongside and then suddenly veered sharply toward them, blocking the road ahead. William Babner—a 40-year-old with previous convictions for drunken driving, welfare fraud and marijuana dealing—jumped out, pointed a handgun at the two and ordered them into the truck. He forced Dan into the covered bed with his dog and made Danielle sit in the cab with him.

Babner steered out of the park and proceeded to take them on a 12-mile journey. Under the influence of a strange cocktail of tranquilizers, anti-depressants, stimulants and alcohol, Babner spoke to Danielle in tones that alternated between extreme anger and apology. He explained that he was kidnapping them Babner's red pickup truckbecause her father owed someone money. He said it was not his intention to hurt them, just to collect ransom, but that he would kill them if they tried to get away. It was a crazy story that made no sense, and it became apparent to Danielle that he had no idea who they were when he drove them right past her house. She caught her little brother’s eye and saw her stepfather, and discreetly tried to gesture to them, but they passed in a whir.

Eventually Babner and his captives ended up on a bumpy, unpaved road in a remote wooded area in East Manchester Township along the river’s bank. It was now dusk and cold. Babner raped Danielle repeatedly, then ordered the two out of the truck and told them to walk toward the river. With their backs to him, they heard the gun go off. “Dan fell right in front of me. Blood was coming from his mouth. I thought, ‘OK, we’re going to die.’ I got down on my knees; Dan and I said goodbye and said we loved each other. I suddenly felt a lot of pressure in my head, and then everything went dark.”

The next thing she remembers was waking in the cold river. She could not move her left leg. She was bleeding from her mouth, spitting out teeth, and her tongue was severed. She spied Dan in the river, and they began swimming toward each other. Dan was a certified lifesaver, and he was able to keep her afloat as she struggled in the cold current. When they looked back to the shore, they noticed Babner watching them. Dan told her to play dead. Eventually Babner, convinced that he had killed them, got back in his truck and drove off.

The two drifted down the river and were spotted by a duck hunter who waded into the water and grabbed Dan’s hand. He pulled them to shore, and they were able to explain they had been shot. The hunter told them to remain there while he got help. He ran to the road, flagged down a red pickup truck and returned. When Danielle and Dan saw the truck approaching, they believed incorrectly that Babner had returned and began wading back into the water. But the men jumped out and were able to assure them that they were there to help. Danielle remembers them draping her with a coat, the ambulance arriving, hot blankets and then darkness.

 

THE TWO SPENT the next six weeks in York Hospital. Danielle had been shot through the jaw and thigh, and Dan had been shot in the back of the neck and cheek. The bullet had just missed his carotid artery. The cold river, because it helped clot their blood, had actually saved their lives. During the lengthy recovery, Danielle’s doctors placed a steel plate in her shattered jaw and wired her mouth shut. Danielle and Dan were discharged from the hospital the same day, lucky to be alive.

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