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Emily Willegal

 

Despite the evil, believing in good

Today is Emily Willegal's funeral, a good 60 or 70 years too soon.

Kimani Ward admits he took away her life, according to a criminal complaint. Smashed her head with a tire iron, stole the $11 in her pocket, sexually assaulted her and drove around with the unconscious 24-year-old woman in the back of his pickup truck like so much trash, then left her near an alley to die in temperatures barely above zero, the complaint says.

Ward, 28, didn't know Emily. To him she was easy prey, a woman walking alone on Milwaukee's east side around 3:30 a.m. at the precise moment he happened to drive by, the complaint says.

I told my 16-year-old daughter about Emily and about being careful. We like to pretend we can keep our children safe.

Last week the police kept saying Emily's death did not appear to be random. Detectives were grilling boyfriends and former boyfriends, trying to figure out which one did it.

The truth was that it couldn't have been more random. Kimani Ward came along in his truck as Emily walked home from getting a burger at a quick mart, the complaint against Ward says. He saw her and he attacked her, the complaint says.

According to Assistant District Attorney Mark Williams, Ward guarded his terrible secret for not even one day before telling his girlfriend what he had done. She tells her hairdresser. Can you imagine that conversation? Just a trim please, and, by the way, my boyfriend beat a young woman to death. The hairdresser called police.

I looked up Ward's criminal record. This high school dropout has never been caught for a violent crime, but he's a felon several times over for stealing cars and other things. There were plea deals and early releases from prison. He saw a parole agent just days before Emily's death, records show.

Judge Dennis Moroney, sending Ward to prison in 1998, told him, "Every time we do something with you, try to give you the message, you just kind of ignore it and say, 'Hey, I'm just going to do what I want.' "

Police say they are now looking at Ward as a possible suspect in other attacks on women on the east side. A search of his home near 108th and Hampton last week turned up numerous pairs of women's underwear, court records show.

Enough about this guy

As I said, today is Emily Willegal's funeral, up north in Woodruff where she grew up. Her mother, Paisley Woodside, said there will be a reading of Psalm 146, which Emily marked in her Bible.

"The Lord watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widows and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin," it says in part.

The congregation will hear "I Will Remember You," the Sarah McLachlan song. After Columbine, Emily and her friend told each other they wanted this song at the funeral if either died unexpectedly.

And there will be a laminated letter on display. It was sent to Woodside by a Milwaukee man named Vince Cataldi who had friends in common with Emily and often saw her at a particular east side bar.

He saw her there the last night of her life. As she was leaving, she smiled at him, reached for his hand and said, "Vince, I am Emily and we have never been properly introduced even though I've seen you many times." The letter continues: "I hope you find comfort knowing that Emily was always interacting kindly with, and a positive influence on, all those around her, even a 'near stranger' like me."

That this man took the time to share some of her daughter's final words touched Woodside deeply. Even as a mother in fresh grief over a slain daughter, she said she believes there's more good than evil in the world.

A version of this story appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Feb. 5, 2003.
Despite the Evil, Believing in Good