When we were in high school, Barbara typed my fledgling attempts at writing novels and short stories, and encouraged me with my writing. She also loved writing, especially poetry. I wrote about that in a Sept. 11, 2004, post, which I am reprinting below:
The blue ink on the flimsy piece of lined notebook paper has faded a little over the past 32 years. I keep it in a gray, metal box with some of my other valuables like important letters, contracts, insurance policies, and all of the other supposedly important things that these heavy-duty containers are designed to protect.
Debbie Kruse handed me that sheet and another one day while she was a sophomore and I was a junior at East Newton High School. I was on the school newspaper, The Fife and Drum (that name is a perfect example of the danger of having Patriots as a school nickname), and Debbie wanted the poems on those two pages to be printed. The author did not know Debbie was going to do that. Both poems were done in free verse and they were quite good. I agreed to put them in the newspaper and after discussing it with the editor, Paul Richardson, the poems were added to the list of things that would go into the next edition.
"Remember the days, when we were young and free to roam and play like goofy kids." Those were the only few first words of Barbara McNeely's poem, "Remember the Days." When her poems were published, she acted like she was upset, but I could see she was secretly pleased about the universal positive reaction she received.
Her words became more poignant in September 1977, when Barbara, then a sophomore at Missouri Southern State College, was stabbed to death in the parking lot at Northpark Mall. Each year when September rolls around, I think of Barbara.
I can't imagine how her family dealt with that tragedy, Her parents, her brother, her baby sister who never had a chance to get to know Barbara. She had done some work for me, typing manuscripts as I tried unsuccessfully to become a published teenaged novelist. We were good friends. For years, I thought about her every day. I could hear her voice clear as a bell in my mind.
One of the saddest days in my life came a few years ago when it occurred to me that I couldn't remember what her voice sounded like. Every once in a while, it will come to me, but it makes me sad that I can't conjure up that voice when I recollect conversations we had and things she said. All I remember are the words.
Her voice was silenced after she had barely spent two decades on this earth by a lunatic who mistook her for the mother he hated. That man, a student at Ozark Bible College, was found not guilty of her murder after a rare successful use of the insanity defense. I will never forget how the good people from Ozark Bible College and Rev. Cecil Todd of Revival Fires, were far more concerned with the killer than they were with the family of his victim.
Barbara's murderer has been a free man for several years, thanks to the Missouri Department of Health and former Attorney General Bill Webster, who defended the department's decision to release the killer back into society. Last I heard, and this was several years ago, Barbara's killer was married, had children, and was working as an EMT. The last I heard, he was leading the kind of life Barbara should have had, but never had the chance.
That's why the poem is so important to me. I can't always hear the way she sounded, but her words will keep her alive in my heart forever.