WINNETKA, Ill. — Thirty years ago this Sunday, a north suburban woman terrorized the very community she lived in. She planted poison, set fires and opened gunfire on a school room full of children. She then committed suicide, leaving few answers behind to the many questions she raised.
Now, many of those same questions haunt the nation as school shootings continue to rage on.
In north suburban Winnetka on May 20, 1988, Laurie Dann, 30, of neighboring Glencoe, Ill., went on a killing spree.
Herbert Timm was the police chief in Winnetka at the time.
“It was a shock. That’s mainly what it was,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking. That’s why you can’t forget this. You can’t shove it under the rug because it will pop up someplace else.”
Dann gunned down seven people, one fatally, then took her own life during a police standoff.
“I remember that day looking down at her and thinking she was the damn devil. I said, ‘This is it? With all you’ve caused. This is it, you coward? You killed yourself instead of facing the music? I was very very angry,” Timm said.
Dann’s destruction to one village lasted nearly 12 hours.
Peter Munro was one of the Hubbard Woods Elementary School victims from that day. He was just 8 years old at the time. It has taken Munro 30 years to finally speak about that day.
“After getting shot my M.O. was to try to live my life as if it never happened,” he said.
Back then, Munro was a scared and confused school child who took a single bullet through his hand and stomach. The second grader spent the summer in and out of the hospital.
“I didn’t understand what happened and I could tell from looking at adults and seeing their reactions that this was something significant. But for me it was just an interruption of springtime,” he said. “It felt to me like shackles holding me down, stuck to the hospital bed and just wanting to go outside.”
With time his body healed, but over the years his head and heart did not.
“The hardest pill to swallow is that I had some symptoms of PTSD,” he said. “I was anxious. I did have trouble trusting, a huge struggle for me. After it happened, people that loved me, my family, said, ‘You are going to have to deal with this.’ I thought, ‘I did not ask for this to happen to me. I just want to live my life.’”
He survived and so did four of his critically wounded childhood classmates.
But Nicky Corwin, 8, did not survive.
Now, a park in Winnetka is named for the boy. It is one of the few reminders in town of that deadly day.
After the Dann ran with her weapons from the school to evade police, she found herself at the Andrew house not far away.
Phil Andrew is now 50 years old. Thirty years ago, Dann surprised the college swimmer and his mom the day after he returned home from the University of Illinois for the summer.
“She walks in the back door and my mom and I are shocked. We’ve never seen anything like this before,” Andrew said. “She had us at gun point immediately. And said that we were hostages. She looked disheveled, she had been running, she was sweating, she was upset.”
Dann told them she had been sexually assaulted. The Andrews tried to help her and even let her call family nearby. While none of it made sense, they simply tried to help her.
Andrew’s father surprised Dann and her hostages by walking in the backdoor. He had no idea the heinous crimes in the neighborhood were now playing out in his own home.
They tried to negotiate with Dann. Andrew’s parents were able to leave the home.
“I saw a flash, and heard a pop, and thought, ‘She’s shooting at me.’ And I dove immediately out of the way and into a pantry where I kicked the door shut. I got into the corner basically barring the door. That’s when I realized I had been hit,” Andrew said.
Dann ran upstairs. Andrew staggered outside to police with one of the killer’s guns in his hands. One bullet puncturing both of his lungs, his esophagus, his stomach and pancreas.
“It was as lethal as you can be and still survive,” he said.
Upstairs, Dann took her own life.
“What I want to know is how the hell did she get a hold of all these guns?” Chief Timm said. “She had three guns. She was a mentally ill person. She got them legally. I was a little, not a little, I was very angry.”
The chief believes addressing mental illness–not guns–is the key to stopping crimes like these.
Andrew recovered and went on to spend 21 years with the FBI specializing in hostage and crisis negotiations. He consults in crisis management and works for the Archdiocese of Chicago as their director of violence prevention. He talks to students and counsels schools. In a search for moral leadership, he hopes access to guns and mental illness will get some real attention. He’s now married. Has four kids and still swims.
”It’s important that you talk about it,” he said. “You have to express it. You have to get over the shame, the guilt, and you have to tell the story. For me, this has been a lifetime of telling the story.”
Andrew said traumatic mental health response was developed after that day and is the standard for what is used today following mass casualty shootings. He said his life has been greatly informed by the lessons from that day.
Munro is now a husband, a father and a licensed clinical social worker at Rush University Medical Center.
“I have accepted that it happened to me and it did change me and it has affected the way I view the world,” Munro said. “I just feel like if i can help someone with my story, then it’s worth it.”
Murnro hopes telling his story will have an impact in some way. He is not only speaking out publicly, he has also created a website, Living After Trauma, where he shares his full story.
There were four other children shot that day who survived. WGN News attempted to reach out to all of them. In some cases WGN was unsuccessful. In some cases, the request was turned down.
One year after the shooting, to help answer some of the questions left in Dann’s deadly path, WGN News investigated the puzzling shooting and aired a one hour documentary tackling school safety, mental illness, gun control and community response.
Here is a the first five minutes of that documentary. To see the whole episode, download our Smart TV app.