People ask me how I manage every day, how I am able to get out of bed and carry on with life. My main motivation has always been to keep Jessica and Kelli's memories alive, to find the positives in this negative situation, and to do good work in their names.
This morning I spoke to a class of recruits attending the St. Louis County Police Academy. These men and women will graduate next Thursday, and begin their careers as law enforcement officers. I was asked by the Chief of Police of St. Louis, Tim Fitch, if I would come and talk to them about what happened to Jessica and Kelli. You can read about these tragedies in a classroom, but sometimes having a personal account can be a more powerful teaching tool.
For the last few weeks I have struggling with what to say. I didn't want to come across as telling them how to do their jobs, but yet I wanted to tell them what happened and hope they remember Jessica and Kelli, and others, when they have to drive at high speeds.
This morning I walked into the classroom, put my cheat sheet on the podium, and began. My only visual aid was a blowup of their last photograph, taken just a couple of hours before they were killed. I didn't fall, I didn't stutter, and I only lost my place once, when my pages stuck together.
After my speech, several of them came up to me. One man, who had two young children, even cried, and said that he would always remember my girls. Another one said that they had just had driver training yesterday, and this really opened his eyes on what could happen. Another simply said "thank you, I know this must be hard for you."
Yes, it's hard to tell that story, but it's also cathartic. If I touched one person, saved just one life, then perhaps my girls didn't die in vain. As I've said before, maybe this is God's master plan for me, and if not, I'm still doing good work.
My speech is below:
Good morning. My name is Kimberly Schlau. I have three daughters: Jessica, Kelli and Madelyn.
My daughter, Jessica, was 18 years old. She had graduated high school and was attending college, as well as working two jobs. She was beautiful, smart, strong, blonde and determined to succeed at life. She wanted to get her degree in business and pursue a career in marketing or PR. She had a large circle of friends and my house was generally filled with laughter and music thumping in her room. Jessica was never shy and always managed to make friends wherever she went.
My daughter, Kelli, was 13 years old, just 39 days shy of her 14th birthday. She was in 8th grade, a cheerleader, and an A student. She too was beautiful, smart, strong, blonde and determined to be a successful veterinarian. She loved animals, and was also an avid proponent of recycling and being green. She too had many friends, and always seemed to be a happy person, smiling and making people laugh.
My daughter, Madelyn, is 11. She also is beautiful, smart, strong, but a redhead. She loves basketball, softball, photography and has a pretty awesome sense of humor.
Jessica and Kelli were killed on November 23, 2007, when an Illinois State Trooper crossed the median at 126 mph and drove through their car, killing them instantly. When they walked out the door that morning, on their way to have this picture taken, I never dreamed it would be the last time I’d see them, or that this would be their last photograph.
Their car was sheared in half. Their bodies were mangled beyond recognition. It took over five hours for the coroner to notify me of their deaths, and even then they weren’t sure who they were, because they asked me if Jessica was driving, and who would have been in the car with her. Their caskets were closed, and they couldn’t even be dressed. All we could do was give the funeral director items to be draped over their bodies. For Jessica, I gave him her prom dress and her boyfriend’s hockey jersey. For Kelli, I gave them her cheerleading uniform and her Jonas Brothers concert shirt.
Their deaths were avoidable.
The former trooper made many decisions in the minutes prior to killing my daughters. He chose to respond to a call that was originally given to another officer. He admitted in court that he did not hear the entire radio transmission, specifically the portion that advised that other first-responders and law enforcement were already on the scene. He chose not to verify that information. He chose to drive at almost twice the posted speed limit in heavy day-after-Thanksgiving traffic. He chose to use his onboard computer to email another officer for directions to the scene of the call while driving over 100 mph. He chose to conduct a personal cell phone call, talking for almost 4 minutes, while driving over 100 mph, weaving in and out of traffic and driving on the shoulder. Cell phone records show that call was terminated just seconds before he killed my daughters. The vehicle’s black box showed full throttle and no brakes before impact.
All this for a call that was secure. Had he arrived at the original accident scene, his only responsibilities would have been to write an accident report and to direct traffic around the scene if necessary.
The trooper testified in court that he felt his actions showed reasonable care. The director of the Illinois State Police testified otherwise. In fact, he called the trooper’s conduct “indefensible”. The community believes that as well. His actions gave good officers a bad name.
Because of his actions and decisions, my daughters are dead, and he now is a convicted felon. He will never again be a police officer, never again be licensed to carry a gun, and as part of his probation, he cannot drive for the next two years. He is also unemployed.
I am not here to tell you how to do your job. I was raised to have the utmost respect for law enforcement and first-responders, and I still do. We, the public, put our trust in you, to keep us safe, to uphold the law. You have chosen a profession in which you are asked to make split-second decisions, including life and death decisions.
I was asked to speak to you today by Chief Fitch, in hopes that hearing a personal account of the circumstances that led to Jessica and Kelli’s deaths will influence how you might handle a similar situation.
In the moments leading up to the impact, the former trooper could have re-evaluated any of his decisions, but he chose not to. I would respectfully ask each of you, to remember this picture of Jessica and Kelli, and the pictures on the sheet in front of you of the other civilians killed, and also the officers who have been killed, and ask yourself, “if my family were on this road, how would I react? Would I continue on this course of action?"
Congratulations on your graduation next week, and good luck and godspeed to all of you.