Don’t walk between the bark and the tree.
“It sounds like someone throwing things against the wall, and they hear a woman scream.”
Name: Maggie Wardle
Killed: Aged 19
Across the courtyard, in room 201 in the DeWaters college residence, Neenef turns the football helmet hanging outside the room door upside down. It is a signal. Neenef’s room-mate, Eric, is out, and if he comes back and finds the helmet showing number 9 instead of the normal 6, he will know not to go in. That is what they usually do when they have a girl in. And Neenef has asked his ex-girlfriend, Maggie, to come over. He has told her he has something he wants to show her.
Maggie Wardle is a tall, blonde and very clever 19-year-old. She has her father to thank for giving her the opportunity to attend the renowned – and expensive - Kalamazoo College; her father, and her good grades. Maggie’s parents divorced when she was two years old, and she grew up with her brother, mother and step-father in Plainwell, a small town outside Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her mother is a psychiatric nurse and her step-father a teacher. They do not have a lot of money, but Maggie’s father comes from a wealthy family. Her father’s family also has strong hopes as to what career a talented daughter might choose. When Maggie started studying at K College last year she had thoughts of becoming a doctor. She also took up golf. All her choices met with approval from her father’s family in Philadephia.
Maggie’s mother and step-father were happy that Maggie stayed in her home town rather than move to some famous college on the east coast. “We thought it was safer here.”
Neenef Odah’s story is quite different; indeed, his background is different from most of the other students at K College. His parents are also wealthy, but when they left their homeland, Iraq, during the Gulf war, they were forced to give up their claim to the family fortune, which was tied up in the country. The family are Assyrian Christians. When Neenef was twelve, the family arrived in Seattle in the US. Neenef’s parents want their son to become a doctor, like his father. That will prove to be very difficult.
It is past 11 when a message pops up on the girls’ computer screen. It is Neenef , to say that Eric has gone out, so Maggie can come over. Maggie calls Neenef and they talk for a while. “Ok,” she says, “I’ll come over.”
Neither Emily nor J’nai think this is a good idea. They know what problems Maggie has had with Neenef, both when they were a couple and since Maggie broke it off a month ago. Neenef has been calling her and sending nasty messages. When they have met on the campus, he has called her a slut and a whore, and he has told his friends that she was unfaithful while he was at home in Seattle during the summer vacation. He has said he does not believe it is possible to leave someone you once loved.
He has called her a slut and a whore, and he has told his friends that she was unfaithful while he was at home in Seattle.
On this particular evening, Maggie feels sorry for Neenef; maybe she is feeling guilty for breaking up and starting to take an interest in other men. At the college dance on Friday, she spent all evening dancing with Nick, an old friend of Neenef, before going home with him. She pulls on her blue sweater and says, “He just wants me to read something. I’ll only be gone twenty minutes.”
“Well, if you’re not back then, I’ll call you,” warns J´nai.
Many people have tried to analyse what it was that attracted the outgoing, happy, popular Maggie to the odd, and at times aggressive, Neenef. Perhaps Maggie also felt something of an outsider among her fellow students, who had grown up surrounded by wealth.
The fact that Maggie had taken a large responsibility for her older brother Rob, who suffers from Aspergers syndrome, might also have played a part. “Maggie was always there to cover for him,” says her mother. She recognises herself in her daughter. “I was like that too, when I was young, always wanting to help everyone. You think, if I do that and that and that, then things will get better.”
Many people have tried to analyse what it was that attracted the outgoing, happy, popular Maggie to the odd, and at times aggressive, Neenef
But to Neenef’s friends, and he had many, he was also a charming buffoon who spread joy wherever he went. He was a boy it was easy to like. When Maggie and Neenef became a couple, round about Christmas at the end of the first term, they laughed a lot together. And Neenef was very romantic. He wrote poetry to her in Arabic and he was constantly telling her how beautiful she was.
But more and more often, Maggie had to listen to Neenef’s poignant stories of a lost homeland and a childhood full of expectations and violence.
As Neenef’s grades worsened, the pressure from his family in Seattle increased. Maggie helped her boyfriend as much as she could, studying with him and helping him with his written assignments. But at the same time, she became more isolated. She spent less and less time with her friends. She virtually lived in Neenef’s student room. Neenef did not drink or smoke; Maggie stopped going to parties, and smoked in secret, wearing gloves and a hat so he would not smell the smoke. When she went home to visit her parents, he would send his dirty washing with her as a way of checking that she really had been there, and not been doing something else.
When she went home to visit her parents, he would send his dirty washing with her as a way of checking that she really had been there, and not been doing something else.
When the summer vacation came, Maggie went home to her parents and began a summer job working for her uncle. Neenef and she chatted on-line intensively. He accused her of all sorts of things, mainly of not caring about him. “You don’t love me any more.” She made a fuss of him, and tried to reason with him, but his needs were insatiable. Neenef demanded she erase all their chat communication. She did not do that, but neither did she tell anyone about the pressure she was living under.
Maggie’s parents could see that Neenef’s need to control Maggie was getting stronger, but they were not worried. Maggie was a sensible girl who could look after herself. They were right. Maggie began to have doubts about the relationship, and when Neenef was in Seattle with his family she broke it off.
On the 8th of October, he bought a shotgun. He told the shop assistant that he was going hunting.
And the unhappy 20-year-old student, under unremitting pressure from his father because of his poor grades, decided his life had no further meaning. Back in Kalamazoo, on the 8th of October, he bought a shotgun. He told the shop assistant that he was going hunting. He had to wait one day to pick up his weapon, but otherwise no questions were asked. He smuggled the rifle into his student room and hid it under the bed.
At 11.20, another student in Neenef’s corridor, Navin, looks into Neenef’s room. The two rooms are joined by a shared bathroom, and Navin knocks on Neenef’s bathroom door before opening it, not knowing that Maggie is there. Maggie is sitting on the couch, facing the bathroom. She is crying. Neenef says, “We’re just talking, I’ll come round later.” Navin closes the door. He is the last person to see Maggie and Neenef alive.
In room 110 in DeWaters, on the floor below, Erin, Leza and Jeff are sitting watching ‘When Harry Met Sally’ when they hear a loud noise from the floor above.
“It sounded like a closet falling over, but when you’ve lived in a student room for a few years you don’t take any notice of strange sounds,” says Jeff. At the same moment, Brandon passes Neenef’s floor on his way outside for an evening cigarette. He hears a loud scream, which he thinks sounds like an injured dog. A bang, like something being thrown against a wall, does not worry him either. Anthony and Mark in room 208 wonder whether someone is banging a nail into the wall, or if some idiot is kicking a football in the corridor. Anthony gets up to have a look.
Aaron, Mark and John, sitting in the room opposite Neenef’s, number 202, also hear noises. They think it sounds like someone throwing things against the wall, and they hear a woman scream. John looks out into the corridor but he only sees an irritated Anthony standing in his doorway, and then it goes quiet.
The noise continues for a while, but then it goes quiet. Deathly quiet.
Navin, in the room next to Neenef, hears noises through the closed bathroom doors, and he guesses it is a baseball bat. He knows Neenef keeps one in his room. Is Neenef hitting the wooden bat against the wall? The noise continues for a while, but then it goes quiet. Deathly quiet.
People have begun to gather outside room 201. What is going on in there?
Navin goes out into the corridor and knocks on Neenef’s door. When no-one answers, he goes back into his own room to go to his neighbour through the bathroom. He opens the bathroom door and on the floor he sees blood and something that looks like a piece of meat that has run under the door and into the bathroom. Navin’s first thought is that Neenef’s roommate, who hunts, must have taken some meat to school and that the fridge must have fallen over when Neenef and Maggie were fighting.
But it is quiet. Eerily quiet. And there is a strange smell.
The police investigation later confirms that Neenef shot Maggie in the back of the head with his shotgun and then took his own life. Neenef’s friends believe that he bought the rifle intending to commit suicide, but that he changed his mind just over a day before the murder, when he saw Maggie dancing with Nick at the home-coming dance.
Several of Neenef’s friends later receive an email he wrote the day before the murder. The message includes the following words: Loving someone means never giving up on that someone. Never hurting that someone. And never saying I don’t love you anymore. Once you truly fall in love with someone, as Maggie had done with me for the last 8 months, there’s no way you can fall out of love with that someone….I can’t say I’m sorry for my actions because I hope to God all the people that get a hold of this letter realize how short life is to spend hurting one another.
Neenef Wilson Paulous Odah
Maternal deaths: 16 deaths per l00,000 births
Number of children/woman: 2.06
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion. Some states have regulations making certain information to pregnant women mandatory, including the size and appearance of the foetus.
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: one woman in six has been subjected to sexual violence.