Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Insights into domestic violence & a Minnesota father’s mission after his daughter’s murder February 2, 2016

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Local clergy, representatives from crisis centers and many others gathered to hear Dan Kasper's powerful message on domestic violence.

Local clergy, representatives from crisis centers and many others gathered to hear Dan Kasper’s powerful message on domestic violence.

IN A NEARLY TWO-HOUR presentation Sunday afternoon to a crowd of around 50 gathered at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Owatonna, Dan Kasper of Northfield spoke from the heart—of losing a daughter to domestic violence.

In April 2013, Becky Kasper, a 19-year-old marketing major at Arizona State University, was murdered by her former boyfriend, Luis Soltero. He is currently serving 25 years in an Arizona prison for second-degree murder, plus an additional five for kidnapping, followed by a lifetime of probation with mental health terms.

Dan Kasper delivered a powerful message that personalizes domestic violence. With a portrait of Becky to his left, Dan remembered his daughter—with the beautiful brown eyes of her mother, Sheryl—as determined, a go-getter, a leader, a problem solver. Friends described her as strong, bold, brave, independent and a loyal friend.

“Becky did everything right in life,” her father said, dispelling preconceived notions about victims of domestic violence. “No one could see this coming. Doing everything right got her killed.”

He explained: Becky was trying to help Luis deal with drug and alcohol abuse. But his daughter, he said, “didn’t know what she was up against.” Luis was dealing with mental health issues and had previously attempted suicide, as recently as six weeks before Becky’s murder. “Trying to help puts you in a vulnerable spot…we are losing a lot of young women.”

On April 9, Becky and Luis ended their relationship. On Saturday, April 20, within the two-week time frame that is most dangerous for any domestic abuse victim leaving a relationship, Luis killed Becky with a 10-pound dumbbell. The following Tuesday Luis turned himself into police, after using Becky’s bank card, going to a movie within hours of her murder and attempting suicide. His plan was murder-suicide.

We need to get rid of the “he snapped” notion, Dan said, accepting that a process leads an abuser, like Luis, to domestic violence.

Dan Kasper spoke with passion and purpose.

Dan Kasper speaks with passion and purpose.

The Kaspers’ mission and the warning signs

Dan and Sheryl Kasper are on a mission now to honor their daughter. Specifically, Dan encourages parents to educate their children about and mentor healthy relationships. He emphasizes the need to increase communication and to maintain that communication, especially if a daughter is in an abusive relationship. It is up to parents, he said, to fight the battle against domestic violence because they have the most to lose.

For the Kaspers, living 1,600 miles away from Becky, there was no reason to suspect anything was amiss in Becky and Luis’ relationship. The pair spent a Christmas with the Kaspers in Minnesota and Dan drove back with the couple to Arizona in a car he’d purchased for Becky. All seemed well between them. Dan would next see Luis 1 ½ years later in an Arizona courtroom.

In hindsight, the Kaspers now recognize Becky’s calls for help. Literal calls. In one phone conversation, Becky told her mother about bruises on her arm, explaining that she’d bruised herself while pulling pans from the oven in the coffee shop where she worked. On another occasion, she told them about two black eyes caused by an air bag deploying when a friend’s car, in which she was a passenger, crashed.

“Why would we think she was lying?” Dan asked. “She was always truthful before.”

The Kaspers would learn later that, in Arizona, “people were seeing these warning signs.” They learned that “Becky was roughed up,” that people “heard screaming and stuff flying around” and even the foreboding scream, “Stop it, I can’t breathe!”

“No one told us,” Dan said. “We never had the chance to help.”

Becky Kasper's portrait.

Becky Kasper’s portrait.

Honoring their daughter

But now, despite his frustrations with “the system,” despite this tragedy that has left him existing rather than living, despite no longer feeling emotions but only thinking logically in survival mode, Dan is determined to make a difference. He quoted the words inscribed on a plaque in Becky’s honor at Arizona State University: This is not where it ends.

Sunday marked his first public speaking engagement to educate, to begin to effect changes in laws and in policies on college campuses, to fight the battle against evil. “Domestic violence is under the umbrella of evil,” Dan said, encouraging audience members to be persistent, relentless, never changing the course in being good people. “By being good people, we are fighting domestic violence.” He likened that to putting “a little grain of sand in the devil’s shoe.”

As the murder case worked through the judicial system—which Dan says is all about the abuser—the Kaspers begin to ask themselves, “What will best reflect and honor Becky’s life?” Their top priority, they determined, was assuring Luis gets the mental health help he needs and to also protect the public. That was accomplished with the 30-year prison sentence and lifetime probation with mental health terms.

Dan Kasper next to a portrait of Becky.

Dan Kasper listens to audience questions.

Meeting the murderer in prison

In November 2014, Dan met face-to-face with his daughter’s killer. Luis walked into the prison visiting room unshackled with a bounce in his step, a smile and as happy as could be, like they were old buddies, Dan said. This father didn’t get the answer to his question, “Where is the mental illness I didn’t see?” Nor did he get an apology. Nor an explanation other than Luis “got in his head that Becky needed to die.”

Luis accepted responsibility for the crime, not blaming it on mental illness. He also talked about dedicating his life to Christ and repentance and said he some day wants to speak about domestic violence.

During that prison conversation, when Dan revealed that he would have helped Luis had he known of his problems, Luis shared that he would have called him.

“The abuser is a victim, too…he has a family,” Dan told audience members on Sunday. His wife, he noted, “would rather be Becky’s mother than Luis’ mother.”

In the final hours before her death, Becky and Luis’ mother were texting each other about Luis. In her last text late in the afternoon of April 20, 2013, Becky wrote, “He seems relatively OK.”

That day, Luis murdered Becky.

#

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, seek help. You are so worth it. Contact a local crisis resource center or women’s shelter for help and support. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. Leaving an abuser is the most dangerous time; have a plan to leave safely. Additional information is available, for abuse victims, family, friends and survivors by clicking on any of these links:
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women
NO MORE

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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25 Responses to “Insights into domestic violence & a Minnesota father’s mission after his daughter’s murder”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    Terrible tragedy. This is a powerful statement, “The abuser is a victim.” I don’t know that everyone understands that concept. I don’t believe anyone is born bad, but rather their environment contributes greatly to the outcome of their life. In my earlier years with corrections I worked at the juvenile facility in Red Wing. Many of the stories I read were very sad; it was no wonder the kids turned out the way they did.

    • Dan Kasper packed his message with many powerful statements, giving us all a lot to contemplate. I admire his strength and that of Sheryl.

      I’m sure you could share a lot of disheartening and difficult stories.

    • Respectfully disagreeing. There are the abusers that play the “pity me victim” card and accept no responsibility for their actions. Where does growing up and not using your past as an excuse to be a horrible person come into play?

      • I agree with you, Missy. Abusers often use the excuse of their past and/or blame the victim.

      • Dan Traun Says:

        I wasn’t suggesting the abuser get a pass due to their past. I was only trying to point out perhaps the reasons why this type of tragedy occurs and continues to occur.

      • I completely agree that there are reasons why some people don’t act in ways that the rest of society would deem as normal. I also think that they need and deserve a chance at treating and correcting those personal problems. However, people need to know right from wrong and stop using weak excuses for reasons to commit inexcusable crimes. I also admit that I am a bit over sensitive when it comes to the topic of domestic abuse.

      • Dan Traun Says:

        I think everyone would agree these acts of violence are horrible. Standing only on that ground doesn’t change anything. Until society as a whole digs in and tries to figure out why people behave the way they do and develop corrective measures that actually work, history is destined to repeat itself over and over again. Maybe there is no money in that; that is why it doesn’t happen or happen quickly. Maybe it just isn’t possible. I hope it is possible.

      • Good points, Dan. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important topic. We’re talking about domestic violence here and that’s a start.

      • I agree. I think people look the other way too much.

  2. They said my sister’s murderer was okay, too.
    He. Was. Not.

    …but he gets NO MORE excuses…

    No more- “He had a poor childhood. No more- “He was mentally ill.” No more -“He must have been sick to do that.” No more- “He must not have been loved enough.”

    We tried to love him. We tried.

    No. More. Justifications.

    ******This is not where it ends***** ( love that )

    This brings HOPE! This brings salvation! This brings a solution!

    So VERY sorry for your great loss.

    Love flowing from Duluth.

    • Kim, I know that you, more than most, can empathize with Dan and Sheryl Kasper. You have walked in their shoes with the murder of your beloved sister, Kay.

      Your words are always powerful with the kind of insight that comes from deep within the heart and soul. Thank you for offering your condolences to the Kaspers and for continuing to speak out against domestic violence in honor of Kay. You are her voice. Continue to rise up and be heard. You are making a difference.

  3. I’m using “this is not where it ends” in my talk at the summit about Kay. Thank you. Xx

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  4. One Word: Powerful! Domestic Violence needs to be talked about as well as mental health. I think it is better to ask for help and get it out there. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Don Says:

    For some reason society as a whole has come to accept the “it’s not my fault” attitude. It always someone else’s fault or something else’s fault, never accepting responsibility or admitting it’s THEIR fault. I have been on many jury trials and I cannot understand why during deliberations the jury members want to feel sorry for the accused. FEEL SORRY? REALLLY? If I hit my thumb with a hammer its MY fault, not the hammers, not the manufacturer of the hammer, not my parents, not society’s its MINE all MINE!

    Sorry for getting on a rant but we are responsible for our actions.

    I respect and pray for the Kasper’s, it must be a terrible thing to endure.

    • “…we are responsible for our actions.” I agree. That says it all.

      The compassion the Kaspers are showing toward their daughter’s killer takes a great deal of courage and strength. They want him to have mental health treatment and lifetime probation so he can NEVER AGAIN kill or harm another person. Of course, there are no guarantees, even under probation.

  6. Reblogged this on Expectational and commented:
    This event took place at the church I serve as pastor. Audrey has done a wonderful job of summarizing this event. Two hours long, in the middle of the afternoon and I didn’t see a single person nod off, including myself, who is usually the first one to get sleepy.

    • Thank you. And thank you for reblogging this and for hosting this presentation by Dan Kasper. I was impressed with the turn-out. What a powerful message Dan delivered. What an impact I expect he made on those who heard him and who spoke with him and Sheryl afterward. I admire this couple’s strength and determination to educate others about domestic violence and make a difference. We must continue the dialogue.

  7. Gunny Says:

    I could write a book right here on this one topic. Many, no doubt, have been published. First indicator to even the slowest of those on the uptake is the involvement of ANY drugs or alcohol. My sorrow is overridden by my desire to be able to do something should I be confronted with a similar situation. Sorry, after a crime such as this, upon conviction, my heart turns to stone towards the perpetrator who took the life of the very person who tried to understand, offered aid and comfort. The survivor then paints the story that they are also a “victim”. There may be some truth to that, but often it is nothing anyone of us could have done to rectify the situation even had we known about it. Mental Illness is something for professionals. Drug and Alcohol Abuse (or use) is in the same category. A person with both problems is a powder keg. Any person close to that may as well be holding a match.

  8. Sandra Says:

    This has been reposted on HOPE Centers page. Thank you for so beautifully summarizing the excellent presentation by Dan Kasper on Sunday. Thank you also for inviting me. It was an honor to meet you and sit beside you for this powerful afternoon.

    I’ve seen some “likes” and “shares” already since I posted it to our FB page this afternoon. I have also shared the link with personal friends and family and on my own FB page. The dialog about Domestic Violence will continue with your typed words prompting more conversations. Thank you!

    • Sandra, thank you for reposting and for sharing the link to Dan’s powerful personal story about domestic violence. As you know, there’s great value in talking about the topic, in educating ourselves, in raising awareness.

      Likewise, I enjoyed meeting you. Thank you for everything you do in your work at Hope Center in Faribault.

  9. Sue Ready Says:

    I agree with all the readers comments and so admire how this couple has displayed strength and determination to educate the public. But so unfortunate they’d have to lose a daughter and get to this point having to make a public service message. What a heartbreak.


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