FYI, this is technically part of a series of posts. Here is part one and here is part two and here is part three if you need a ketchup. If you want a quicker ketchup, my dog died, my good friend/ family member died, and 15 hours after the celebration of her life my good friend and neighbor was shot five times (and I was there when it happened). There ya have it …In the last post, I was interviewed in the murder investigation.
In this post, I’m about to cry about it in front of Katie Couric and Will.I.am.
After the murder happened, my brain and body became completely catatonic. You might have seen me physically but if you asked me what was going on, I wouldn’t tell you because I couldn’t tell you. I couldn’t process the words mentally, let alone speak them.
Losing my best friend in a fur coat was devastating. Having my best friend lose his best friend three weeks later was gut wrenching. Coming home from her celebration of life and walking DIRECTLY INTO a murder investigation AND THE PERSON MURDERED WAS YOUR GOOD FRIEND – what else can you do except completely check out.
Only this lasted for five weeks …
Day after day I sat in front of my computer staring off into space. I couldn’t work due to the shock, I couldn’t work out because sitting on a spin bike made me want to cry. Leaving the house was scary, staying inside the house was even scarier. Having been in these depressive states before, I said to myself, “cool, you can’t go to the gym, Friel – but you’re a pretty good runner. Why not put on a playlist and go for a run?”
So I did …
and over …
and over …
I listened to Limp Bizkit’s album Significant Other …
Running away wasn’t an option, but physically running helped me process what my next move should be (even if that meant literally moving).
The more I ran, the more I thought about how fucked up this situation is. Not only did our management ALLOW a murder to occur (they had a lot of noise and drug related complaints – although no arrests could technically be made) … but they don’t even have the respect to COMMUNICATE TO THE COMMUNITY THAT THIS OCCURRED!
If this were a few weeks ago, and social distancing wasn’t yet a “thing,” and I polled 100 people on the streets and asked “what is the worst thing that could happen to you while living in an apartment building?” I’d say at LEAST 60% would say “have yourself or a neighbor murdered.”
Guys, remember when “social distancing” wasn’t a thing?
Murder is the ultimate trump card – IT’S THE DEFINITION OF A WORSE CASE SCENARIO AND YOU WON’T EVEN SEND AN EMAIL? MEMO? BUILDING NOTICE ON THE DOOR – NOTHING?!
That got me playing this song specifically on repeat …
… and while I’m not a violent person (at all) … I do use words as my weapon and my version of destruction is loaded with logic and strategy. It wasn’t about destruction of the management, (as I believe in life people hang themselves far greater than anyone else can), I just wanted to be told what happened and I wanted to know what actions were being taken to ensure our safety as a community. I wanted to know how the FUCK to even BEGIN to recover from this not only as a neighbor but also as a friend of the victim.
The layers of grief I was dealt compounded with the violation of a murder happening where you live was too much. Since I couldn’t work or workout and there are 86,400 seconds in the day that were going to be spent anyway, I then made it my full time job to figure out what the next steps were in this process. The second level of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” is safety. Without that being in check, I couldn’t achieve the other steps of love and belonging, esteem, or self-actualization. That fact made me angrier, and I let that anger motive me to find answers … where is the first place you go for answers?
I then googled “what to do when your neighbor is murdered?”
The search results produced a series of content marketing strategies from attorneys describing tenants rights and laws. I knew Batz had never been charged with anything in his unit (which is why he wasn’t evicted). Proving negligence in this would be next to impossible, but also, I’m not a litigious person. I had no interest in suing, I just wanted to continue to find answers and was frustrated that I had no idea how to even ask the question!!
I then hosted a game night (which nine times out of ten we never even end up playing a game) where everyone in the building came down to compare notes. I personally didn’t have any, but someone mentioned the “housing authority” and that they are a great option for resources. I then placed a series of calls and was left with more questions than answers. So and so from this office has to talk to you and they’re out to lunch, on maternity leave, or preparing for the apocalypse (WHICH WAS LITERALLY ABOUT TO HAPPEN).
Personally, I’m really disappointed there aren’t more zombies …
… okay technically we have one and his name is Rob … but still my shooting, fencing, ballroom dancing, archery, and rock climbing skills are COMPLETELY going to waste.
I shared my frustration with my best friend who said there is an organization called the Santa Monica Renters Rights (SMRR). They are like the NRA of Santa Monica and if you want to run for office or start a business, you become friends with these people first.
BINGO! I thought knowing I could at least use them for resources to know what direction to attempt to pursue.
I then googled the number and left yet another message. To my surprise their response was the fastest, and a few hours later, I was able to FINALLY state what happened and attempt to find a direction.
“Hi,” I said to the operator.
Brutally avoiding any beats around the bush, I continued without pause, “my neighbor was murdered and the building hasn’t improved safety measures nor have they even communicated to the tenants that this took place (we had to find out from the police knocking on all of our doors). What are our rights in this scenario?”
“Wow,” he said. “This is a first.”
“Are you a resident of Santa Monica?” he asked.
If I said no in this scenario, they would say that they are only able to help people out who live in Santa Monica. Considering this felt like MY ONLY LIFELINE, I lied and said “I can’t tell you that out of privacy concerns. Nothing has been written about in the news (which I also found strange … and I really really really searched) … I’d like to remain anonymous if that’s okay.”
“Absolutely,” he said very empathetic. “Well, you have a lot of different boxes to ping in this case. There’s legal, there’s your rights as a tenant to living in a safe building, there are going to be (I’m assuming) code violations within the building, and that could involve the law. I don’t really know what to tell you to do, or which direction to go in first,” he said very honestly. “I’d be really angry if I were you too.”
I thanked him profusely for his time, and for the first time this year I had validation of my anger. I didn’t know I needed it in that moment, but instead of getting mad I was instead really grateful to have been heard.
I then hung up the phone and went back to google. I searched a series of housing authority offices and “housing authority adjacent” non-profits. One of the non-profits had an address that was right down the street from my favorite local watering hole. I saw the address and then went …
I actually knew the people that ran this particular non-profit. They are regulars at the bar where I’m a regular.
See, when I like a place, I like to get invested in the people that also spend time there. If you’re a regular at this bar, I’ve either directly grabbed a drink with you to shoot the shit, or I’ve asked whoever I was sitting next to at the time what your story was. There are two people that come into that bar every day after work (no judgement) and sit down with a handwritten RESERVED sign saving their spot. I love it because this is the LAST place you’d ever expect to see a reserved sign, so obviously it made me want to ask people about them.
I vividly remember playing Jeopardy next to my friend Steve (who is SO good), and he told me that “they run a non-profit for something in housing.”
I file everything away and I’m an elephant that never forgets (that’s the writer part of the brain that makes the stories I tell SO SPECIFIC).
I quickly realized I wasn’t just presented with my next step, I was presented with people that I have something in common with!
While I hadn’t ever spent time talking to them directly, I am considered a “darling” of the bar and I knew anyone and everyone there would vouch and help me get the help I needed!
I then got in the car and drove over to their office (hoping to bump into them). The office was fortunately open but unfortunately very closed off. All I could see was the receptionist and a little side room (where I was taken into). I could hear that there were voices from offices behind the door but since I only knew the faces of the couple, I couldn’t actually ask for them by name. Besides, outing someone at their place of work that you know that they go to this one bar every single day is not my style.
I then went through the process of giving my statement in the little side room, saying yet again what happened without any sort of emotion just SHEER DETERMINATION to accomplish my goal of proper communication and direction.
She then said someone from the office would call, and as I thanked her for her time, I looked down at my phone noticing it was almost wine-o-clock.
BINGO!!! I immediately thought as I dropped off my car and Forrest Gumped myself into a lyft to head over to said watering hole.
Upon arrival, I sat down next to my friend John, who asked why I looked so sad.
“Are you still thinking about Buster?” (el doggo that was mentioned earlier) he asked very lovingly.
“Actually, I’m here on a mission,” I said in a declarative fashion. “My good friend and neighbor was murdered and I need help.”
I took a breath as I caught myself tearing up … this was the first time I said those words to an actual IRL friend and not some sort of government employee or operator.
I took another deep breath as I continued … “Steve told me sometime ago that the two people that sit here (I pointed behind me at the handwritten RESERVED sign) created some sort of housing non-profit. I want to buy them a drink and ask what I should do.”
“I love how determined you are,” he said, “and I’m also really sad about your friend/neighbor. That’s a horrible thing to experience and I don’t even know how you can talk about it.”
“I can’t,” I said. “You were the first friend I told that to.”
He then bought me a drink, as like clockwork, my target walked in.
Jeopardy (which I play religiously) starts at 7pm. I knew that they were always there for at least the first half. This meant (given the time) they at least had two drinks in them before leaving. You never know what someone’s days is like, so rather than just pounce on them immediately, I waited until they were done with the first drink before I approached.
The male in the couple then excused himself to use the restroom and as I saw the female sitting alone, I made my move.
“Hi,” I said excited but also not “too excited to overwhelm her. I’m Jen, and I see you here all the time and wanted to introduce myself.”
“Hi, I’m [insert name here] which also happens to be the same name as our building manager.
Guys, remember when we could shake hands AND go out to bars?!
Do you by any chance run a housing non-profit?
“No, I’m a social worker actually, but yes we do have our own non-profit.”
I wasn’t sure what the difference was as I continued …
“I ask because my neighbor was murdered and management has done nothing to improve our safety or even communicate that the murder took place – we had to find out through police knocking on our door. That has to be wrong … right?”
I then explained the steps I had taken and all of the calls that were made and either unreturned or placed in the social equivalent of the “other folder.”
“Don’t bother with any of the housing authorities, she said with a cackle. “Go to your city council member and go to your area’s lead safety deputy. There is an officer that is assigned to protect specifically your area. They oversee everything and are a great resource.”
“I have to buy you a drink for the information you just gave me – I can’t thank you enough.”
“You already did she said, but save your money, you might need it to move.”
I laughed as I hugged her, closing out my tab, and said good bye to my friend.
“I’m so sorry for the year you’ve had,” he said.
“Yeah, but SHE JUST GAVE ME THE PERSON TO TALK TO … SO I’VE ACCOMPLISHED MY GOAL!! I’ll have to figure the rest out later!!!”
I then called my city councilman, and left two messages. Unreturned, I then emailed and was actually directed to the lead deputy for my area.
I called his office twice, followed by an email.
I was en route up to a friend’s place in Carmel for the weekend when I actually got a call back.
“Hi Jennifer,” (I use my full name when I want to sound super important) “we’ve received your info and know about the case. We want you to know this is a targeted act. There is no reason for you or anyone one of your neighbors to feel unsafe.”
While I know he didn’t want to say the next part, I did know I had effectively communicated my fear.
He then said the words I’ve been wanting to hear for WEEKS, “I’d be happy to send an officer out to speak to you and your community. Let me give the officer who does this your info and he’ll get back to you.”
“What’s his name,” I asked?
[insert name here] he said as I inserted said name into a google search and immediately found his email.
I hung up the phone and cut and pasted the address into the email as I began passionately typing out the fears felt line item by line item.
(Normally this is where I’d show you all exactly what I wrote, but much like with the dramatic interpretation of the murder investigation – this is reality and not a TV show, out of respect to him and the investigation I can’t.)
BUT!!! … two days later en route back from Carmel (about 5 hours outside of LA) I actually got a callback.
And of course because I was taking the scenic route back home meant that I couldn’t talk to the officer because I had never taken the trip before and didn’t realize I wouldn’t have service for 3/4 of the way back.
Still don’t regret it though … look at these pictures …
I can honestly say I’ve never had a drink while literally sitting in a river before.
I pulled over to the side of the road because I saw a family of deer!I got to see these really cool Elephant Seals too!AND I took this one outside of a waterfall. I call it a “casual cowboy in contemplation.”
Anywho, the next day we finally connected as I laughed at how bad our connection was on the first four calls.
“Where were you,” he asked?
Carmel, I said, my friend has this INSANE compound and as I’m sure you could understand, I really needed to get away.
<tangent> This was hands down the coolest property I have ever stayed on. It’s a ranch with a series of the most welcoming and well designed bungalows. There’s horses, dogs … I’ve never seen anything like it.
“Yeah, I’d definitely get out of town with what you all just went through.”
I then explained what I had said to the first officer and continued by saying “this isn’t a bitch fest. As a community, we just need to know what our rights are and how we can begin to heal. To heal you have to first be heard,” I said realizing that was unintentionally poetic.
“I completely understand and thank you for the awareness that a lot of these do become ‘bitch sessions.'”
“This won’t be that,” I reassured.
We then sent a few more emails back and forth confirming schedules.
I then typed up this flyer …
I specifically included the term “bitch fest” knowing that the community would know this wasn’t from management, and as a written promise of my word to the officer.
The flyers were then placed underneath the doors of each unit.
I had texted one of my (now old) neighbors (who lived directly below Batz and specifically moved out because of what she had heard) telling her that a meeting with a lead deputy was on the books.
She sent this next …
When I first read her text, I thought it read Will and Kate meaning this Will and Kate …
which considering how surreal the year had been up until this point – I wouldn’t have been surprised if randomly I’d receive an invite to one of their events.
WOW, I thought as my eyes then suddenly adjusted to the fact that she didn’t mean that Kate she meant this Katie …
Couric like the last name written on the last line of text.
And this Will …
Also known as Will.I.Am from the Black Eyed Peas.
My friend, Will and Katie are all the top dog producers on this new documentary about the Parkland shooting called Parkland Rising.
I watched the trailer with my best friend (who was going to be my plus one and who was also there during the murder) as I questioned WHY ON EARTH I WOULD WANT TO WATCH SOMETHING LIKE THIS AFTER MY FRIEND AND NEIGHBOR WAS MURDERED.
“This is going one of two ways – either this is going to be very therapeutic and I am going to feel better or I am an emotional sadist who wants to cry her eyes out even more at ANOTHER shooting. There’s no in-between.”
He laughed, and said “I support whatever your decision is.”
Obviously this series of posts didn’t start off with “that time I didn’t cry my eyes out in front of Katie Couric and Will.I.Am …” so we all know what happens next.
Guys, remember when going to the movie theater was a thing?
Before the movie began, I grabbed some popcorn and a glass of rose. As I sat down in our seats, I started to mentally prepare myself for the unknown. (I know, how do you prepare for the unknown when it’s unknown? I get it – but it’s what I did.)
My best friend held my hand and instead of saying “everything will be okay,” (which I can’t STAND hearing in times of uncertainty – don’t tell me it’s going to be okay unless you have ACTUAL knowledge of said okayness) he rather just looked at me through the eyes of love, and with empathy, and uncertainty about what we were about to experience… BUT with the firm knowledge that if we were going to experience something uncertain it’s always better done together.
Besides, I said, “being friends with one of the producers means that we get to say hi after.”
I grew up with Katie Couric in our kitchen on the Today show (which is what we religiously watched – I would laugh as a kid when they would say “Tomorrow on Today”). She’s in idol adjacent territory and I HAVE to say something to her.
He agreed to hold me accountable as the lights went down.
Tears began streaming down my face as soon as the title credits began.
I laughed to myself thinking, “oh you’re about to be in for it Friel, so buckle up!”
The documentary opens with user generated content from the students of Parkland. It’s a very powerful opening sequence where you tragically see these KIDS … TEENAGE KIDS … running while gunshots ring out in the background.
I’m a 35 year old woman barely able to handle this – I can’t IMAGINE what this life experience must have been like as a teenager. I’m not saying the life experiences were the same as school shootings are mostly done at random and it’s a stream of bullets, but from my perspective, I’m speaking in terms of the violation in feeling safe somewhere and then suddenly and abruptly, you’re not. You are now in the same building as someone who is capable of committing murder.
Shot after shot rang through the theater as tears continued pouring down my face. The cloud of catatonic hold was lifting as the emotions flushed and overwhelmed every particle of my being.
My best friend kept his hand holding game strong as I said to myself “keep breathing, and keep feeling. Feel every tear, feel every fear. I said this over and over until I could feel myself calming down to a “I do not need to remove myself from this theater” level.
Much like with everything else I had experienced this year, I couldn’t run away. Nor did I actually want to. Of course I could have just left the theater, but instead I saw this as a powerful tool to help my journey – wherever that will take me and whatever that may be. This moment was my fate (amor fati) and despite the EXCRUCIATING PAIN … I had to see it through.
I spent the better part of the entire two hours crying. I cried for my friend who didn’t deserve to die like that. I cried for our community that is still in mourning over this INCREDIBLE violation. I cried for the murder/murder-ers – since I can’t imagine what life must be like waking up knowing that you TOOK a life. And most of all, I cried for myself. I’ve been through a lot of shit but man, this year has really kicked my ass, and that’s okay because like with everything else I’ve done in life, I move through something and don’t turn away from it.
The audience began clapping and cheering as the closing credits commenced. Instead of clapping like everyone else, I used the loudness of the crowd to let out a WHAALLEE of a cry.
You know when you’ve been crying for a while and then you just go that ONNNNEEE step deeper? That’s what I did exactly in that moment.
I WHHHAALLLLEEEED myself through it.
I finally cried.
… in the middle of a very crowded theater.
Guys, remember when crowds were a thing?
I then quickly excused myself to use the restroom before the Q&A started.
I walked into the bathroom and splashed water on my already wet saline swollen face.
“Feel your feelings, but also speak them.” (I actually said this to myself in the mirror.) “You can’t keep this in, to heal you have to be heard – SO FUCKING SAY SOMETHING.”
… which is exactly what I did walking back into the theater.
Katie Couric, Will.I.am, one of the father’s of a murdered student (isn’t that horrible that that is probably how this man is described now?), the director, and two of the organizers sat facing the crowd. Katie was the moderator, and began asking the panel questions about the film.
I know she was asking questions, because I saw people’s mouths moving. But could I tell you what they were talking about or what anyone was actually saying?
Katie then addressed the audience by saying, “and now we’ll open up to the audience for questions.”
Immediately, and without thought, I raised my hand.
Now, the Arclight theater in Hollywood (where we were) holds a couple hundred people and almost every seat (except the very front) was filled. Out of those couple hundred people, with maybe 25 people with their hands raised, who do you think of those 25 people Katie Couric called on?
THE WOMAN IN MOUSE EARS THAT HAS BEEN CRYING IN INTERMENT HYSTERICS FOR THE LAST TWO HOURS.
I lowered my hand as I stood up and for the first time told a crowd of people my personal truth.
“I can’t thank you enough for this film, it was therapy for me tonight.[In an undisclosed amount of time from the screening but close enough to still be in shock and now publicly crying I said,] My friend and neighbor was murdered. I was there when it happened – I heard the gunshots.”
I said that sentence, and heard my own tears and tone echo throughout the theater.
Almost immediately everyone turned their bodies around to see who was speaking – so literally all eyes were on me at this point, and I was past the point of giving a flying fuck. I told myself I would speak my truth, and here I was doing EXACTLY THAT.
For the first time in this life experience, I heard my own voice externally speak an almost identical narrative to my internal voice … MY FRIEND WAS MURDERED. I WAS THERE. MY FRIEND WAS MURDERED. I WAS THERE. THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED. THIS IS REAL LIFE.
I obviously didn’t say exactly, that, but I couldn’t tell you what I said past that opening sentence/ statement. I still can’t tell you if I asked a question, or if anything I said sounded intelligent.
When I was done speaking, I sat back down in my chair. My best friend held my left hand as the person in front of me reached around and held my right, I continued to sob as the session ended and the lights were fully engaged.
“Well, I guess this was a good idea,” I said to my best friend still wiping away tears.
“You said earlier you wanted to talk to Katie Couric, congratulations you did it!”
“I can’t tell you anything I said.”
“You were very eloquent and you spoke from the heart. What more can anyone ask for?”
I smiled as we exited feeling pride for the first time in a long time.
The flood-gates continued to well, flood, all the way home and onto my couch. My best friend held me as I sobbed the continued reality of what just happened – “I was interviewed in a murder investigation. We were here when my neighbor was murdered and I lost my friend to five bullets. In all of this I lost my fucking friend and protector AND I WAS INTERVIEWED IN HIS INVESTIGATION,” I said barely able to speak.
That night, I slept on the couch and woke up to a missed call and text from my friend/ former neighbor:
I sent this back …
I then sent her this screenshot from one of my last texts from Batz …
I always trusted being in your hands Batz, I’m just so so very sorry you couldn’t trust yourself in your own.
PS. Oh, and the meeting? I can’t disclose any of that information except for the fact that the community was so grateful I’ve had a stream of santized dishes placed at the door for the last month. Carrot bread, banana bread, cranberry muffins, sugar cookies, blueberry muffins, lasagna, wine, flowers, and even the most cherished items toilet paper, gloves and wipes.
It’s nice to be quarantined with such kind people. Oh yeah did I mention that THE GLOBAL PANDEMIC healed our community from a murder? A.GLOBAL.PANDEMIC. that’s what it took.