I woke up to a stranger hovering over my bed. His hand clamped over my mouth. “Don’t scream. There’s nobody home to help you,” he hissed, and brandished a knife.
Thirty years ago this summer a serial rapist began his reign of terror in north Springfield. From 1988 to 1993 over a dozen rapes and attempted rapes of young girls and teenagers were reported in my community. Springfield girls and parents lived in a virtual prison of fear, not knowing when the unidentified predator would strike next.
Most of the attacks followed a similar pattern. In the predawn darkness he entered the home of his victim through an unlocked window or door. In many cases parents were asleep in another room. The young victim would awaken to a man with a knife. Although one attack occurred in a grassy field as two girls walked home from McDonald’s, that case was an exception to the pattern. Most of the victims were from ages 9 to 16.
Indeed my family’s life changed in many ways after the north Springfield rapist began his crime spree. My late mother was a single parent working at the post office. My sister and I were 11 and 13 at the time. My mom and perhaps most Springfield parents lived in a constant state of high alert, trying to raise kids with a pedophile on the loose.
I remember when a reporter from The Register Guard interviewed my mother. “I can’t leave my kids home alone,” she told him. “It’s like when they were babies!”
As a teenager, I was pretty oblivious to my mother’s struggle. My top priorities were making the eighth grade basketball team and buying a “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” record. In retrospect, I realize my mom put on a brave face, but in fact she (and probably most mothers in my community) suffered a lot during those years.
The nightmare ended in late 1995 when a local man was arrested on unrelated sex crimes. A DNA test linked him to several of the Springfield rapes. Michael Clifton Owen, a Eugene-Springfield native, was a 31-year-old inconspicuous neighbor who lived among us. He confessed to being the north Springfield rapist.
In June 1996 many of Owen’s victims (we were young women by that time) attended his sentencing at the Lane County courthouse. Several of us testified. As a 20-year-old college student, I did not know it was quite rare for victims of sexual abuse to see their perpetrator put behind bars. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), out of 1,000 rapes, only six perpetrators will be convicted of a felony and sent to prison.
Due in part to our testimony, Owen was sentenced to 130 years.
Three decades on, my brave mother has passed; neighbors moved away; police have retired. Is it too little, too late to say thank you? I want to express gratitude to my heroes, detectives John King and John Umenhofer of the Springfield police, and to the courageous parents who lived in north Springfield at that time.
Most of all, a sincere thank you to the survivors of Owen’s crimes because our actions have ensured that he will never hurt another child again.
Finally, thank you to Bernardo for your viewpoint in Eugene Weekly (7/19). Your story inspired me to write this piece.
“Tara Marie,” a pseudonym, is a teacher and married with two children. Because she was a minor when she was raped, EW is protecting her anonymity.