I first heard the phrase “Life is Random” while watching Lt. Joe Kenda’s Homocide Hunter on Investigation Discovery. He was referring to a case out of Fort Carson, Colorado that he had investigated. A recently discharged Army military officer was left bleeding to death in a parking lot after being stabbed multiple times by a complete stranger. It was concluded that Brandin Penza was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Shortly after this show aired, our local news reported that a woman in Saco, Maine had been killed while grocery shopping at Shaw’s. Come to find out the person who murdered her claimed that he had been off his medications and the woman had looked at him wrong. This was the reason that he killed her. It was once again cemented for me that life truly is random.
Then I got to thinking about my own close encounters with death and how random and unexpected they were. The one time that came to mind was the night of July 17, 2002 on my way to Guard duty at the 267th CBCS in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I was working there part-time while pursuing a Master’s Degree in Public Policy & Management. This would be a day that would be forever etched in my memory.
I was about three hours into my trip from Maine when I made my usual pit stop at the Burger King plaza on Route 24. It was the last stop for me before I took the exit to Cape Cod. It’s also the last plaza right off the interstate. This particular night I attempted to stop but the police had recently closed the entrance to the parking lot preventing anyone from entering the scene. I didn’t know what had happened but I really had to go to the bathroom.
The next day I was curious as to what happened at the Burger King. Come to find out, a known violent sex offender in Massachusetts who had recently been hired for the overnight shift at Burger King had stabbed Alexandra Zapp as she was coming out of the very bathroom I used on a weekly basis. I was stunned. All I could think of was how closely I had come to death. All I could think was how I would never forget Alexandra Zapp. I had rolled up on the Burger King right after the crime had occurred. Had I showed up there only minutes earlier it could have been me or I could have been a witness to a crime. An off duty police officer in the men’s bathroom next door heard Alexandra’s screams and went to investigate the situation. He found Paul Leahy covered in blood and after asking him what was going on, he said “I lost it.”
Alexandra Zapp was on her way back to Newport from Boston. She stopped to use the bathroom at the Burger King plaza on Route 24. As evidenced by the defensive wounds on Leahy, Alexandra Zapp fought back against her attacker but she succumbed to the multiple stab wounds in her neck and chest. According to Alexandra’s mom, Ally was a beautiful person inside and out with a zest for life. She regularly volunteered for charity events and had big dreams for her future.
Ally’s mom, Andrea Cassanova, has not let her daughter’s legacy die. Paul Leahy was a convicted sex offender with a history of violence. Andrea has become an advocate for tougher laws that keep known violent sex offenders off the streets and she created a non-profit in Ally’s name. She worked with the Massachusetts legislature to get “Ally’s Law” passed in 2004. The bill gives “district attorneys the ability to civilly commit incarcerated persons who were previously convicted of a sex offense, regardless of the purpose of their current incarceration.”
I found it interesting how much I have in common with Andrea and Alexandra. I too graduated from high school in 1990. I too moved back to the East Coast in 1994. I was a victim of a known sex offender simply because I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. In the end because of what I have learned in my own life, I have made it my life’s mission to educate people about crime prevention. Life is random but a lot of these crimes could be prevented if our society understood that sex offenders can and do escalate to murderers. Sexual assault is your red flag.
Related Links: Mother of murdered woman targets sexual violence (2012)