On a summer night in 2009, three lives intersected in one American neighborhood. Read more...
On a summer night in 2009, three lives intersected in one American neighborhood. Two people newly in love--Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper, who spent many years trying to find themselves and who eventually found each other--and a young man on a dangerous psychological descent: Isaiah Kalebu, age twenty-three, the son of a distant, authoritarian father and a mother with a family history of mental illness. All three paths forever altered by a violent crime, all three stories a wake-up call to the system that failed to see the signs. In this riveting, probing, compassionate account of a murder in Seattle, Eli Sanders, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper coverage of the crime, offers a deeply reported portrait in microcosm of the state of mental health care in this country--as well as an inspiring story of love and forgiveness. Culminating in Kalebu's dangerous slide toward violence--observed by family members, police, mental health workers, lawyers, and judges, but stopped by no one--While the City Slept is the story of a crime of opportunity and of the string of missed opportunities that made it possible. It shows what can happen when a disturbed member of society repeatedly falls through the cracks, and in the tradition of The Other Wes Moore and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, is an indelible, human-level story, brilliantly told, with the potential to inspire social change.
A monstrous crime unveils mental health care failings
On a hot summer night in 2009 in Seattle, a 23-year-old man crept through the bathroom window of the home of 39-year-old Teresa Butz and her partner, 36-year-old Jennifer Hopper. The pair awoke to find the stranger standing over their beds with a knife; he proceeded to rape and stab the women repeatedly.
They eventually broke free, running into the street, screaming and bleeding, while their attacker fled. It was too late for Teresa Butz, who died from her horrific wounds. Hopper survived, suddenly finding herself planning a funeral instead of the wedding ceremony she and Butz had been looking forward to.
Eli Sanders, an editor of Seattle’s weekly newspaper, The Stranger, received a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting of the crime and its aftermath. His expanded book-length coverage, While the City Slept, is an absorbing and meticulous account of how these three lives tragically intersected on July 19, 2009.
Sanders’ reporting makes for sad but riveting reading. The killer, Isaiah Kalebu, is the son of a Ugandan immigrant who routinely beat Kalebu’s mother. Mental illness ran in his mother’s family, and Kalebu was known to wander the streets spouting grandiose nonsense with his pit bull in tow. He had been diagnosed as bipolar in 2008 but refused treatment and medication.
Sanders describes Hopper’s admirable courage and compassion as she addresses Kalebu at his sentencing: “I do wish you peace, and I do not hate you, and I’m so sorry for whatever it is in your life that brought you to this.”
As the narrative unfolds, Sanders also deftly explores the tangled roles played by the social services, mental health and prison systems, calculating that the public will end up paying over $3 million for Kalebu’s trial and continued incarceration. While the City Slept offers a comprehensive look at a tragedy that is sadly all too common.