I first heard the phrase “Life is Random” while watching Lt. Joe Kenda’s Homicide Hunter series on Investigation Discovery. Lt. Kenda was referring to a 1994 case out of Colorado Springs, Colorado he had investigated. A recently discharged Fort Carson Army soldier was left bleeding to death in an apartment building parking lot after being stabbed multiple times by a complete stranger Kevin Gooley for no reason whatsoever. 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 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 exit before I jumped on the highway to Cape Cod. It was also the last public 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. As we pulled off the exit, they flagged us to keep going and get back on the highway. I didn’t know what was going on but I really had to go to the bathroom.
The next day I was curious about what happened at the Burger King. I googled it at work and learned a known violent sex offender in Massachusetts, who had recently been hired for the overnight shift at Burger King, stabbed 31-year-old 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 of 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. Fortunately, an off duty police officer was in the men’s bathroom next door when he heard Alexandra’s screams and went to investigate the situation. He found Paul Leahy covered in blood. After he asked him what was going on, Leahy said “I lost it.”
Alexandra Zapp was on her way back to Newport from Boston, Massachusetts when she stopped to use the bathroom at the Burger King plaza on Route 24. As evidenced by the defensive wounds, 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 Casanova, has not let her daughter’s legacy die. Paul Leahy was a convicted sex offender with a history of violence. Andrea 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 had 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 when it comes to victims of crimes in some cases 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.
Ally’s Way | Ally Foundation
Murder of Alexandra Zapp | Wikipedia
Last Exit | Boston Magazine
Massachusetts Congressional Record—Senate, Vol. 157, Pt. 5 (May 9, 2011)
Recognizing the Ally Foundation; Congressional Record Vol. 157, No. 62 (May 9, 2011)
Alexandra Zapp’s parents fight to prevent more tragedies
A judge’s plea for justice | Boston Globe
A Life That Could Have Been Saved By a Background Check
Alexander Zapp’s life could have been saved by a simple Background Check
Beyond the Rhetoric of Reform: How to turn Good Intentions into Effective Public Policy
What You Need to Know Before You Go on a Business Trip Alone | Cosmopolitan
Preventing Sexual Violence Through Science And Innovation | Ally’s Foundation
Ally PSA | Ally Foundation (2018)
Paul Leahy | Murderpedia