Rosenblum: Craiglist death shifts thoughts to still-grieving Olson family

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 20, 2012 - 2:17 PM
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Nancy and Rolf Olson’s daughter Katherine Ann was killed answering a Craigslist babysitter ad in 2007.

Photo: Jeffrey Thompson, Star Tribune

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Nancy Olson swam in the ocean on Friday and hiked to a mountaintop on Saturday. She's feeling good about her life, her family, her future.

It's wonderful to hear that.

After learning of the senseless, violent death Aug. 10 of 19-year-old Aung Thu Bo, of St. Paul, my heart went out to Bo's grieving family and quickly, too, to Nancy and Rolf Olson.

Bo, who studied computer science at Hamline University and volunteered in the Burmese community, was killed under circumstances rare but increasing: answering a Craigslist ad. The death of the popular and promising young man came on the heels of three earlier robberies at gunpoint in a single week by someone advertising an iPhone for sale on Craigslist.

But the Olsons will be forever tied to the worst kind of first, the October 2007 murder of their daughter, Katherine Ann. Her death captured worldwide attention because it was believed to be the first killing tied to the hugely popular online classifieds site. Katherine, 24, was lured to her killer's house in Savage after responding to an ad for a baby sitter on Craigslist.

In May 2009, after her killer's conviction, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark spoke before more than a thousand people gathered in the Twin Cities to honor Katherine's memory.

The Olsons continue to honor Katherine's memory and they continue to grieve. But they are bravely pushing forward, which is why Nancy hiked that mountain Saturday -- in South Korea.

Nancy arrived in Busan, the country's second-largest city, about two weeks ago. The veteran teacher has signed a two-year contract to teach at the Busan Foreign School, a pre-K-through-12th-grade school offering an American curriculum. She will teach ninth-grade English, AP English, American literature and British literature at the school, which is a 10-minute walk from her apartment along a lovely tree-arched path.

"I'm really energized," said Nancy, 57, via Skype on Friday. "It's a new challenge for my career. I've always wanted to do something like this. This is as right a time as it will ever be."

Rolf, 58, who helped set up her school-provided furnished apartment, will remain in the Twin Cities as pastor of Richfield Lutheran Church, and is adjusting to one heck of a long-distance relationship.

"In spite of our horrendous experience," said Rolf, who plans another trip to Busan in the spring, "life is still good and we're out to make the most of it."

Nancy, formerly a teacher at Tartan High School, learned about the overseas opportunity about 1 1/2 years ago from a colleague who had taught in Uzbekistan.

"He talked about how good it was to teach overseas," Nancy said. The kids were well-behaved, the parents supportive. "I knew it was an option," she said, "but a pretty out-there option."

Rolf was on-board with "exploring." So they attended a recruiting fair in Waterloo, Iowa, where he ran into a friend he'd known since junior high school who was now principal of the Busan school. For the next year, the couple continued to toss around the idea and number-crunched to figure out how to make it financially doable.

In January, Rolf's old friend sent him a Facebook message:

"We need a kick-butt AP English teacher. Do you think you could get Nancy to interview with me?"

Rolf helped her find an apartment in a 20-story high-rise in a neighborhood of 20-story high-rises. They traveled to the World Expo in Yeosu, a city on the ocean with a population of 300,000, and to Gyeongju to see temples.

And the weather? Steamy. "To walk is to sweat," Nancy said.

She confesses that they made a trip to the Busan Costco, too, to buy ham, oatmeal, canned tomatoes and spaghetti sauce "at outrageous prices." But Korean food is quite good, public transportation is marvelous and the Koreans she's met have been kind and generous with their time and assistance. Nancy speaks not a word of Korean, but is working on "thank you."

She sends "a running care package list" home for basics such as measuring cups and spoons. She'll fly home for Christmas and the summer.

Skype and FaceTime help make communication easier with Rolf and their kids. Daughter Sarah, 31, and her husband, Doug Richter, are the parents of a 19-month-old son. Son Karl, 26, returned to school after a hiatus and received a master's degree in nursing. He was married in October 2010, the same weekend that Katherine died. Sarah told her brother, "Maybe you'll reclaim the last weekend of October."

Nancy and Rolf are working to reclaim even more.

"I believe that Katherine faced evil that morning," Rolf said. That evil, "almost took away my ministry, Nancy's teaching, our marriage, the good our children would do in the world. So it's with absolute defiance that I am not going to let evil win. I want to live," he said, "in a way that makes her proud."

Nancy begins teaching Aug. 28. "By and large, I feel great," she said. "I have total control over what I'm doing. Katherine taught me that life is too short to be spent waiting for the next milestone. After all, one is not guaranteed to get it."

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com

612-673-7350

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