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.
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.”
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.
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
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling