From the Brink

Danielle Keener MacGuire takes back the night

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Babner was arrested 48 hours after leaving them for dead. Dan was able to give the police a vivid description of Babner, what he was wearing, his dog’s name, the contents of the truck and other details critical to the investigation. On Sunday, Dan’s description helped the police track down and trace the truck to a man who owned a Rottweiler named Sam. The next morning, a SWAT team surrounded Babner’s house, where he was staying with a girlfriend and her children. After she left the house with one of her children, police commandeered a school bus that was preparing to pick up the other child. As the bus departed with the other child safely on board, police stormed the house and arrested Babner without incident.

Six months later, after a 1½-week trial, Babner was convicted of two counts of attempted homicide, two counts of kidnapping, multiple sexual offenses and robbery. He received a 117½- to 235-year sentence in a state correctional institute, where he will spend the rest of his days. At the time, it was the longest nonhomicide sentence in York County history. The prosecutor, Edward Paskey, said later, “We had every item of forensic evidence a prosecutor could possibly want to try a case. The only thing we didn’t have was a videotape of the event. But Dan and Danielle gave the jury their account, which was better than a tape.”

 

Dan Zapp and Danielle Keener on their first dateWHEN DANIELLE RETURNED to Susquehanna in the fall of 2000, she relied heavily on the guidance and support of her Susquehanna friends, staff and faculty. She wanted desperately to graduate with her class, even though she had lost a semester. Her life had been forever changed, but she wanted somehow to get it back on track. “I was excited about going back to school, but I was nervous. My home and family were my safe haven.”

Her sister, Cassy Keener ’01 Gulden, was close by throughout the ordeal. Her friends from the Class of 2003—roommate Elizabeth Martin, Kate Herman, Jesse Eaton, Jennifer Witowski, Sara Mainhart Brown and Sarah Kiemle—all knew what had happened. It was a tight circle that had visited her during her initial recovery, a group that guarded her privacy and watched over her throughout her undergraduate years.

Martin remembers the early weeks of Danielle’s re-entry. “We weren’t sure what to expect when she came back,” she says. “There were definitely good days and bad days. We just tried to be patient and to listen when she needed us.”

Others were helpful as well. The late E. Raymond “Padre” Shaheen, special assistant to the president, spent many hours with Danielle. Joel Cunningham, then the president of the university, had written to her when she was in the hospital and offered her whatever assistance she felt she would need. The campus counseling office worked with her weekly over the next two years, which Danielle says was absolutely essential to her recovery. And the few on the faculty who knew what had happened, including Mary Lou Klotz, helped her stay focused on her work.

“What stands out for me is that she never looked like someone recovering,” says Klotz, chair of the psychology department. “She was in no way a victim. You would expect someone who has been through that kind of experience to be more reserved, somewhat suspicious of other people. She was never that. She was friendly and outgoing and seemed to expect the best out of people instead of the worst.”

The adjustment, nevertheless, was difficult. One night when she was returning from the library Danielle mistook a maintenance worker for Babner. She bolted and ran all the way back to her dormitory room, where she flung herself onto her bed and sobbed into a pillow. “There were just moments like that,” she says.

Around her, college students were acting like college students. Her friends were going to fraternity parties, socializing, mixing hard work with hard play. “In some ways I had anger and jealousy. I wondered how my friends could do these things and be so naive. I was 19 at the time, but I no longer had the childhood naiveté. I had so much fear, I mean so much fear. Even though it was such a small, safe campus, I was very scared at night.” Her life was like that until she decided one evening to take back the night.

 

IN HER SOPHOMORE YEAR, Danielle joined WomenSpeak. The organization had gained traction among students not only as an effective support network for those who had experienced trauma, but also as a means to educate young women and men about identity and sexual assault. She was intrigued by the organization because her own experience made her feel the need to educate others. Over time, she became deeply involved in WomenSpeak, eventually becoming a co-director.

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