November 17, 1973, was the night when a pretty, 13-year-old girl named Sandra Cheskey, accompanied her handsome boyfriend and his three best buddies out to the beautiful Gitchie Manitou State Preserve for a night of fun around a campfire.
That night turned into a nightmare, as the group's solitude was irretrievably shattered by three brothers who ultimately murdered the four boys, kidnapped and raped Sandra, who the next day was returned home.
The Fryer brothers were eventually convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole and continue serving their sentences at the Iowa State prison in Fort Madison, Iowa.
Sandra's life after the horrific events of that night was a tangled web of sorrow, anger, guilt, shame, abandonment, self-medication and self-recrimination. She never received counseling of any kind and admittedly made some bad choices in trying to keep her demons at bay.
I was honored to meet Sandra at a book-signing event in June of 2017. The book Gitchie Girl by Phil and Sandy Hamman documents the event which has become the stuff of legends and late night scary ghost story-telling sessions.
The Sandra I met then (44 years later) was a somewhat reserved mother, grandmother, aunt, and friend with beautiful dark eyes and an easy smile. She has somehow found a way to make peace with her past despite having unanswered questions, (Why did this happen? Why did she survive? Why did they let her go?).
Sandra Cheskey continues to inspire those around her to also find their inner strength and move beyond tragedy and limitations.