Teena Brandon, An American Tragedy


I. Background of Teena Brandon

Teena Marie Brandon was born December 12, 1972 in Lincoln, Nebraska and was murdered December 31, 1993 in a run down farm house on the outskirts of Humboldt, Nebraska. She was the second child born to JoAnn Brandon, a sixteen year old widow whose first child, Tammy, was born when she was only thirteen years old, and whose husband and Teena's father, Patrick, two years older than her, was killed in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident while JoAnn was pregnant with Teena. Teena was named after the family dog.

JoAnn did the best she could raising her two daughters, but they were classic low-income single parent family, who lived a hand-to-mouth existence in trailer parks. JoAnn went to a local community college where she studied textile design for several years. However, she was quite sickly with a variety of ailments and ultimately went on disability at a very early age. Brandon received an education through the Catholic schools in Lincoln and attended the Catholic high school, Pius X. Unfortunately, she was expelled her senior year, right before graduation, for a prank and never completed her high school education.

II. Teena Brandon Evolves into Brandon Teena

The most significant event in Brandon's youth was that she was a victim of incest by an uncle when she was in grade school, a fact which came to light only years later. The records show that she was abused on a regular basis from 1977, when she was five years old through 1981, when she was nine. This was never reported to her mother or to authorities. Her sister, Tammy, verified that she herself had been sexually abused by the same uncle.

Sometime after Brandon obtained puberty, she began to reject her own sex. She began dressing like a boy, cut her hair short, bound her breasts, and even put a sock in her pants to simulate male genitalia. She began posing as a boy and started dating girls. She was repelled at the thought of being touched by a male.

After her expulsion from high school, Brandon began a series of unskilled jobs including working in a lumber yard and selling vacuum cleaners, posing as a male. She was consistently short on money. She began having brushes with the law which culminated in her being charged and convicted of a felony check writing offense in Lincoln, and was subsequently placed on probation and was instructed to have psychiatric evaluation because of the transsexual ideation that she displayed. It was during this counseling that the history of incest first appeared.

In 1991, Brandon attempted suicide and was obviously very unhappy and depressed. In January, 1992, after having been charged and convicted of second-degree forgery, Brandon ended up at the Lincoln Crisis Center and was diagnosed with a gender disorder, possibly transsexualism, as well as an adjustment disorder. Records dated February 1992, indicated molestation when she was about nine years old. This was the first her mother knew of this. In April, 1992, Brandon was placed on probation by the district court, and was required to go to a mental health clinic as part of her probation. In August, 1992, Brandon again talked to her counselor about the abuse by the uncle, which resulted in her leaving the session actually physical shaken. In October, 1992, Brandon was terminated from the clinic, indicating there was no change, and in December, 1992, she was terminated from the program for failing to follow treatment. In November, 1993, Brandon was diagnosed by another counselor with transsexualism and a personality disorder.

III. Brandon goes to Richardson County, Nebraska

Richardson County, Nebraska, is one of the poorer counties of the state, located in the extreme southeast corner of the state, about 80 miles southeast of Lincoln, on the Missouri River across from the state of Missouri. The county seat is Falls City, a town of approximately 4,800 people. Falls City had been the site of a mass murder in 1985 when a religious fanatic living in a commune, named Michael Ryan murdered a number of people including a young boy named James Thimm, whom he allegedly skinned alive. After a lengthy jury trial in 1987, he received capitol punishment, and the case is still in the court system. State vs. Ryan 233 Neb.74, 444 NW2d 610 (1989), 248 Neb.405, 534 NW2d 766 (1995); 249 Neb.218, 543 NW 2d 128 (1996); 257 Neb. 635 601 (1999). The costs of the murder trial to this small county were staggering and virtually bankrupted the county. Memories of that experience were still vivid in the eyes of the law enforcement officials of Richardson County, Nebraska in 1993.

In the late fall of 1993, Brandon violated her probation and a warrant for her arrest was issued. Fearing that she would ultimately end up in prison, Brandon, posing as a male named Brandon Teena, developed a friendship with an unwed young mother named Lisa Lambert. Lisa lived with her baby in a dilapidated old farmhouse on the edge of Humboldt, Nebraska in Richardson County. In November 1993, Brandon moved to Richardson County and began living with her new girlfriend, who assumed that Brandon was in fact a male.

After Brandon commenced living with Lisa in the Falls City area, she began associating with a number of her friends, most of whom did not work on a regular basis. Two of these were a couple of local ex-convicts, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen. Lotter had just been released from prison a short time before meeting Brandon. Nissen was also a small time convict, also in his early twenties, who was married and had children but apparently no job.

Brandon immediately took a liking to Lana Tisdale, an attractive seventeen-year-old woman, and a former girl friend of Lotter. There were indications that Brandon and Lana had sexual contact although the exact nature of same remains a mystery. Lotter didn't seem to be upset about his new male friend dating his old girlfriend. This group of friends partied regularly, did not work, and basically got into trouble. Lotter and Nissen took Brandon in as another male friend. It did not dawn on any of these people that the boy they knew as Brandon Teena was, in fact, a girl named Teena Brandon.

IV. Brandon Teena is discovered to be a female named Teena Brandon

Brandon's difficulties began on November 30, 1993, when she was arrested in Richardson County for a minor in possession charge while carrying a drivers' license of a man named Charles W. Brayman, her cousin. On December 15, 1993, Brandon was again arrested on forgery in Richardson County for stealing checks and forging the name of the owner of the checks for the purpose of buying gifts for her then girlfriend, a repeat of the conduct that got her into trouble in Lincoln the year before. Brandon, who could not make bail, was held in the Richardson County jail for safe-keeping. On December 17, Brandon gave a signed confession to the bad checks and wanted to accept blame. After being taken to jail and put in the usual jail uniform, it was discovered that the male who they thought was Brandon Teena was, in fact, a female named Teena Brandon. Brandon was then placed in the women's section of the jail. Word soon got out in the community Brandon was in fact a girl. The fact did not set well with either Lotter or Nissen who felt that they were made to look foolish. On December 18, 1993, Tammy, Brandon's sister, called the Richardson County Jail, talked to the sheriff, Charles Laux, and advised him that the person they were holding named Brandon was in fact her sister. On December 22, 1992, Brandon was bailed out of jail by Marvin Nissen with money he had received from Lana Tisdale, who was too young to bail her out, using money Lana had received from her father.

V. Lotter and Nissen

Lotter and Nissen were both what might be appropriately classified as classic ne'er-do-wells, both from broken homes, both ex-convicts, neither employed, and both used alcohol to the excess.

In March, 1987, Lotter was charged in Buffalo County, Nebraska, with escape, theft by unlawful taking and operating a motor vehicle to avoid arrest. He spent some time in prison. In March, 1990, he was then charged in Richardson County, with Class III felony escape, a habitual criminal charge, and virtually attempted to escape from jail while wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackles while visiting with his attorney. He was immediately subdued and taken back to jail. In April, 1993, Lotter was charged with flight to avoid arrest and resisting arrest when he tried to outrun a Missouri state highway patrolman. He was returned to Richardson County and in June, 1993, was incarcerated in Richardson County. That same month, Sheriff Charles Laux, took him to Lincoln for safe-keeping because he didn't want to keep him in the Richardson County jail while he was out of town, when the sole guard would be a female jailer. In other words, he was well aware that Lotter was extraordinarily dangerous and did not trust him to be alone even in jail with a female jailer unless he was there.

In May, 1992, Nissen was charged with escape and sentenced to a year for burglary and arson in Richardson County. In June, 1992, a temporary protection order was entered in Richardson County against Nissen by a family that he threatened to harm. In September, 1992, Nissen was sentenced to prison for three years by the district judge in Richardson County

In short, in December, 1993, the authorities of Richardson County were well aware of both Lotter and Nissen and knew that they were both dangerous.

VI. The Rage of Lotter and Nissen

It was against this backdrop that Teena Brandon found herself on December 22, 1993, when Nissen bailed her out with money that he'd received from Lana Tisdale. By this time, Lana knew that Brandon was in fact a female or at least had strong suspicions of it. The rumors were flying in this small community of unemployed young adults that Brandon was really Teena.

On December 24, 1993, Nissen had a Christmas Eve party. Among the guests were Lana, Nissen, Lotter, Leslie Tisdale (Lana's sister), Teena and a number of others. In the early morning hours on Christmas Day, Lotter and Nissen took it upon themselves to take Brandon into the bathroom and "depend" her to determine whether she was really a male or a female. During this time, Nissen hit her in the face and kicked her in the back. Brandon left the Nissen home immediately after the beating and went to a local hotel to make a phone call for help. In the meantime, Lotter and Nissen forced her back to the Nissen house and again assaulted her in the bathroom. This time they forced her to go to their car, left the house, and drove to a country road. There they were actually stuck and were pulled out by a farmer who sent them on their way. They then went to a remote place and both Lotter and Nissen savagely beat and raped Brandon. After the assault, Lotter and Nissen again drove Brandon back to Nissen's home and locked her in a bedroom and told her to stay put and not tell the authorities or be killed. They also took her shoes. At somewhere around 5:00 to 6:00AM, Brandon pried open a window, crawled out and, barefoot with no coat in 20 degree weather, virtually ran from Nissen's house a distance of approximately a mile to Lana Tisdale's house where she was obviously in an extremely distraught condition. Lana's mother called the authorities and ultimately Brandon was taken to the local hospital where a rape kit was performed (and subsequently lost). The Falls City Police Department was called, and the investigation began.

VII. Brandon meets Sheriff Charles Laux

The original investigation was done by the Falls City Police Department. Photos showed that she had been beaten in the face and kicked in the back. The rape kit indicated that she had been raped. There was little question that this woman was the victim of a brutal sexual assault. At this point in time, the Falls City Police Department decided to bring in the Richardson County Sheriff's Office because the rape had occurred in the county outside of the jurisdiction of the small police department. Enter Sheriff Charles Laux, a typical small town sheriff who had some law enforcement training, but no experience with transsexual people. It soon became clear he did not like or trust Brandon because of her sexual orientation. The local police probably should have immediately had a warrant issued for the arrest of Lotter and Nissen, and obtained a search warrant, if nothing else than to preserve the evidence, but they did not. Brandon ended up with Sheriff Laux, who began interrogating her at approximately 3:30 PM on Christmas Day. The interrogation started with a deputy but during the middle of the interrogation Sheriff Laux took over and began the interrogation of Brandon in such an abusive and repulsive manner that plaintiff's expert, Dr. Mario Scalora, would later testify it was "like pouring vinegar in an open wound." His interrogation of Brandon was, at the least, intimidating and was later the foundation for a lawsuit involving intentional infliction of emotional distress. He concluded by asking her "why do you make girls think you're a guy." The deputy testified he was so concerned about what was going on, he left the interview room in disgust. At the conclusion of the interview, Brandon agreed to testify against Lotter and Nissen. By this time, she had been up all night, had no sleep, and was completely disheveled and distraught.

Laux refused to arrest Lotter and Nissen after the interview. Instead, he dispatched the deputy to the location to where Brandon had described the rape and he came back with corroborating evidence including beer cans, used condoms, and a pair of socks that Brandon had actually put in her pants to simulate male genitalia. Still no arrests were made.

During the next two days, the police and sheriff's office interrogated a number of witnesses, all of whom corroborated one way or another Brandon's story. On December 26, during one conversation with the mother of Lana, Linda Gutierrez, Sheriff Laux referred to Brandon as an "it".

Despite the overwhelming evidence, including the local knowledge of Lotter and Nissen, the corroboration from the witnesses, the physical evidence and the photos and examination of Brandon, and Brandon's statements, still no arrests.

In the meantime, Brandon had telephone conversations with her mother and sister, and was extremely frightened. Thinking she would be safe, Brandon then returned to Lana's home because she virtually had no place else to go nor did she have a motor vehicle or money to go anyplace else. She was under the mistaken impression that Lotter and Nissen were arrested. She was scared for her life.

On December 27, Tammy called the sheriff and advised that both Lotter and Nissen had threatened to kill Brandon if she reported the incident. Laux replied to Tammy "mind your own business, I'm doing my job." Two other calls to Richardson County by Tammy were refused.

On December 28, both Lotter and Nissen were finally interviewed by the sheriff's deputy. Lotter refused to talk, however, Nissen admitted essentially trying to "depend Brandon to get to the truth", and assaulting her. Nissen later admitted that Lotter and Brandon were in the backseat of the car out at the remote location where she allegedly was raped, but denied he did any thing. At the conclusion of this interview the deputy and the police investigator thought they should be arrested. Laux refused.

On December 29, the sheriff again wanted Brandon to come for a further interview. Because she was afraid of Lotter and Nissen, Brandon did not show up. Why she did not show up is a little unclear, but she told her sister she saw Lotter and Nissen sitting by the courthouse, and was afraid to go in.

On December 30, the deputy requested Laux contact the county attorney for an arrest warrant but Laux still refused to do so.

The matter came to a tragic conclusion on News Years Eve, December 31, 1997. Brandon had returned to Lisa's home in Humboldt and was there with Lisa, her baby, and a student named Philip Devine, a friend, who just happened to be visiting in Falls City during Christmas break. She thought she would be safer in the country than in the city. However, Lotter and Nissen tracked Brandon down to this remote location, where they brutally murdered Brandon, Lisa, and Philip. They did not harm the baby. The bodies were discovered by Lisa's mother later that morning. When the bodies were found, the authorities did not have any trouble pointing a finger at Lotter and Nissen. On Jan 1, 1998 Lotter and Nissen were finally arrested for rape (not murder).

Both Lotter and Nissen were charged with first degree murder. Nissen agreed to testify against Lotter in exchange for a life sentence and ultimately Lotter was convicted and sentenced to death. He is currently on death row. State vs. Lotter, 255 Neb. 456, 586 NW 2d 591 (1998). Nissen was imprisoned for life although he too had a lengthy trial. State vs. Nissen, 252 Neb 51, 560 NW2d 157 (1997). Recently, Nissen has written a lengthy letter to Mrs. Brandon accepting responsibility and apologizing for his grotesque actions. Lotter still maintains his innocence and the matter is working its way through federal court.

The matter drew the attention of the national media, with major articles in the New York Times, New Yorker, Playboy among others, and two movies, the documentary "The Brandon Teena Story" and the major film, "Boy Don't Cry", for which Hillary Swank won an Academy Award, a book by Aphrodite Jones, "All She Wanted", and numerous talk shows. The civil litigation against the county went for the most part unnoticed.


An estate was opened in the County Court of Richardson County for the purposes of bringing suit against Richardson County, and JoAnn Brandon was appointed personal representative of the estate. Civil suits were filed in both state and federal courts for wrongful death, common law torts, and civil rights violations.

The civil matter was somewhat complicated because Richardson County was part of an intergovernmental risk pool consisting of a number of small Nebraska counties, which had in effect a $300,000 deductible, before reaching a reinsurance policy. Thus the settlement calls were essentially made by inexperienced, and mostly rural, county elected officials, rather than experienced insurance executives.

I. The Federal Case

Initially, a federal civil rights suit was filed in the United States District Court, alleging violation of 42 U.S. Code Sec 1986 against Laux, Lotter and Nissen. The theory plead was conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Brandon, for neglect by Laux to prevent acts done in furtherance of a conspiracy to interfere with civil rights under 42 U.S. Code, Sec 1985 (2) (conspiracy for the purpose of hindering justice with intent to deny Brandon protection of the laws) and 1985 (3) (conspiracy to deprive Brandon equal protection). The district court ruled, in granting a motion for summary judgment, that in order to prove a 1986 violation the plaintiff needed to prove 1) the defendant (Laux) had actual knowledge of a Section 1985 civil rights violation; 2) the defendant had the power to prevent the 1985 violation; 3) the defendant neglected or refused to prevent a Sec 1985 conspiracy; and 4) a wrongful act was committed. The court ruled that plaintiff could not establish such facts, and that Laux did not have actual knowledge of the conspiracy. The court ruled that Laux had "qualified immunity" because ... a person in Laux's position would not have had 'actual knowledge' that the 'wrongs conspired to be done, and mention in section 1985... were about to be committed. " Brandon v. Lotter etc al, 976 F. Supp. 872 (D. Neb 1997)

Subsequently, that was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit holding that actual knowledge of the 1985 conspiracy must be proved to establish a claim. Brandon v. Lotter et al, 157 F. 3d 537 (8 th Cir., Neb 1998).

II. Brandon I

At approximately the same time the federal case was filed, an administrative claim under the Nebraska Political Subdivisions Tort Claim Act was filed against Richardson County, Nebraska, and Laux, alleging negligence, wrongful death, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The act provides written notification within one year of the incident (before suit can be filed), no jury trial, and a $1,000,000.00 cap on damages. There are no punitive damages in Nebraska. The six month statutory waiting period elapsed, the claim was withdrawn, and the case was filed in the District Court of Richardson County.

At the time that case was filed, Hamilton vs. City of Omaha, 243 Neb.253, 498 NW2d 555 (1993) had recently been released, which held that law enforcement officers had no general duty to protect individuals from criminal acts. However the court hinted in that case there could be exceptions to this general rule, little knowing that such would come before the court shortly after publication of the opinion.

The state district court relied on Hamilton and concluded that the county owed no duty to protect Brandon and dismissed the case. The matter was appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court and, in Brandon vs. County of Richardson (Brandon I), 252.Neb.839, 566 N.W.2 nd, 776(1997) in a striking departure from Hamilton, and prior cases, made a number of specific findings which significantly changed tort law in Nebraska as it applied to law enforcement officers, and the public in general. The court held:

  • While law enforcement officials generally may not be held liable for failure to protect individual citizens from harm caused by criminal conduct, such liability is in fact imposed if the police have specifically undertaken to protect a particular individual and that individual has relied on the undertaking. They specifically held that a specific relationship was created in the Brandon case where she had offered to testify and aid in the prosecution of the suspects, where the sheriff's office was aware of the dangers of the victims based on threats to her life and where the police officers determined that the physical evidence at the rape scene corroborated the victims statement and wanted to, in fact, arrest the suspects but were not permitted to do so.
  • An action for intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED) is a survival action and specifically outlined the elements of the tort: To create an action for, the plaintiff must establish:
  • Facts showing that there had been intentional or reckless conduct;
  • That the conduct was so outrageous in character and so extreme in degree as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency;
  • To be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized society; and
  • That conduct caused emotional distress so severe that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it.

It should be noted that although the court had established the tort of IIED in prior cases, it had never found a situation where the facts applied to the law.

  • The estate may recover in a survival action mental anguish resulting from the anticipation and fear of impending death.

The Supreme Court relied heavily on the fact that Sheriff Laux did not arrest Lotter or Nissen and did not advise Brandon of his decision not to do so. Relying on that decision, she remained in Richardson County instead of returning to Lincoln.

The court distinguished Brandon I from Hamilton and marked a sharp departure for the Nebraska court, which has always been relatively conservative in such matters.

At this point current counsel was retained as lead trial counsel. An amended petition was filed. Thereafter, extensive discovery took place including the depositions of all law enforcement officers. Experts were retained. The tape of the sheriff's interview with Brandon was produced. Negotiations failed. The county would never offer more than $75,000.00 and the plaintiff would not go lower than $125,000.00.

The matter was set for trial in Falls City, Nebraska before Judge Orville Coady, a district judge who took over the case after the original judge retired. Pursuant to statute, the case was tried without a jury to Judge Coady for four days during September, 1999. Lana, Linda, and Lisa testified of the events surrounding the rape. During the trial every member of Richardson County law enforcement testified for the plaintiff, and testified that Laux's conduct was below the standard of care and unprofessional. The tape was played, and you could hear the sheriff badgering Brandon. Plaintiff called Dr. Mario Scalora, a psychologist from the University of Nebraska with a specialty in sexual abuse cases, who testified about transsexual ideation and how the prior abuse of Brandon could have played a role in that condition. He also testified that the conduct of Laux during the interrogation of Brandon was like pouring "vinegar in an open wound" Sheriff Laux, who by this time had been voted out of office, essentially admitted he should have arrested Lotter and Nissen. The current sheriff, who had been one of the investigators for the Falls City Police Dept, testified that Laux fell below the standard of care.

The court's opinion made a number of findings that subsequently gave rise to a second appeal. The court found:

1. Richardson County was negligent in its failure to arrest Lotter and Nissen and that negligence led to Brandon's subsequent murder.

2. Law enforcement should have investigated the location of Brandon, their chief witness and a member of the prosecution team, offered to transport her to Lincoln and the safety of her family, offered her protective custody and arranged for an interview with social services.

3. Laux was not guilty of intentional infliction of emotional distress for his conduct of the investigation and dismissed that count.

4. There were economic damages proved of $6,223.20 (the funeral bill) and non-economic damages (apparently fear from dying with Lotter and Nissen still at large) of $80,000.00.

5. The $80,000.00 should be reduced by 85% because of the intentional conduct of Lotter and Nissen and 1% for alleged contributory negligence of Brandon, in accordance with the Nebraska comparative negligence law, Neb Rev. Stat., Section 25-185 et seq. (A clear misreading of the statute, which both parties recognized)

6. Dismissed the action against Laux personally.

7. There was no damage awarded for the wrongful death of Brandon, and that "history does not support any likely contributions of money to anyone or more than nominal damages for next of kin". Nebraska wrongful death law provides for "pecuniary loss to next of kin."

The court award $17,360.97 in damages for the conduct of Richardson County. The matter was subsequently appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court for the second time.

III. Brandon II

In Brandon vs. County of Richardson, (Brandon II) 261.Neb.636.624N.W.2 nd 604(2001), the court again reversed the district court and in a lengthy opinion severely criticized the district court and, in a landmark opinion, ruled:

  • The court held that the plaintiff had successfully pleaded the tort of IIED and concluded;
  • What is rude or abusive may be deemed outrageous when the defendant knows that the plaintiff if particularly susceptible to emotional distress;
  • Extreme or outrageous character of conduct may arise from the abuse of a position of power;

c. The court ruled "Based on the undisputed fact in this case, we determine as a matter of law that Laux's conduct was extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency and is to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community as matter of law"

d. Whether severe emotional distress can be found as a question of law. Whether it existed in a particular case is a question of fact. The court thereafter remanded the case for the district court to determine whether the sheriff's conduct in conducting the investigation to determine whether Laux conduct caused the victim to suffer emotional distress that no reasonable person could be expected to endure it.

e. The case was remanded to determine if Brandon has suffered extreme emotional distress as a result of the conduct.

  • The award of zero damages for wrongful death of Brandon was inadequate as a matter of law and ruled that in the death of a child, recovery damages include parental loss of the child's society, comfort, and companionship. The court further ruled that there was no exact formula for determination of such damages but did rule that the relationship between a parent and child has "intrinsic value."
  • Finding Brandon 1% contributorily negligent was wrong as a matter of law.
  • A special relationship was created when Brandon went to county law enforcement officials and offered to testify in aid of the prosecution and, therefore, the county had a duty to protect Brandon which required more than performing a reasonable investigation of her complaint.
  • Finally, the court ruled that Nebraska's comparative negligence law does not allow allocation of damages to intentional tort feasors.

In a strongly worded opinion, the matter was remanded back to the district court and affirmed the finding that pre-death pain and suffering amounted to $80,000.00 but reversed the allocation of 85% for Lotter and Nissen and 1% for contributory negligence and required the court not to reduce the award of $80,000.00. The court then sent the matter back for determination to whether Brandon had proved the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress and to determine the amount of damages for wrongful death.

The matter was retried before the same judge. Some additional evidence was offered, and the prior evidence was also used.

On October 11, 2001, the district court awarded an additional $5,000.00 for the wrongful death action; $7,000.00 and for intentional infliction of emotional distress; and pursuant to the ruling of the Supreme Court reinstated the $80,000.00 for "mental suffering" plus $6,223.20 for funeral expenses. Concluding that to find a human life was worth less than the cost of burial was an outrage in and of itself, plaintiff once again appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

IV. Brandon III

The Nebraska Supreme Court had its fill of this case and essentially concluded both that the award of $5,000.00 for wrongful death was not clearly wrong and the award of $7,000.00 for intentional infliction of emotional distress was not clearly wrong and "bore a reasonable relation to the evidence." and affirmed the case. Brandon vs. County of Richardson (Brandon III) 264.Neb.1020.653N.W.2 nd 829 (2002).

Thus ended the saga of Brandon's trip through the civil justice system, one month shy of nine years from the date of her tragic death.