Violence strikes close to home; Napervillians pull together
By TIM WEST email@example.com November 1, 2012 11:12PM
Updated: December 3, 2012 6:14AM
When Naperville Park District Executive Director Ray McGury heard about the Tuesday night tragedy on Quin Court, he recalled that awful day in 1999 in a stately house in Naperville’s historic district when Marilyn Lemak killed her three children.
When Lemak suffocated and poisoned her children to spite her husband during the couple’s divorce proceedings, McGury, with the Naperville Police Department at the time, was lead investigator on the case.
Both are child-centered horrors. Which, in Naperville, goes “to the fabric of the community,” said McGury.
While residents generally acknowledge, and take pride in, our community’s often vaunted child friendliness, every once in a while there is a hideous crime in which society’s most vulnerable pay the price.
Each time, we are left to ask why. This time, residents ponder how it comes to pass that a 40-year-old Naperville woman named Elzbieta Plackowska ends up covered in blood and later allegedly admits that she repeatedly stabbed with a steak knife her 7-year-old son and the 5-year-old girl she was babysitting.
The reason for the crime? After offering police various conflicting stories, Plackowska, who had wanted to return to her native Poland but her husband refused, allegedly told police her husband “didn’t appreciate what a fine wife and mother she was,” according to DuPage State’s Attorney Robert Berlin.
Marital discord resulting in violence aimed at children is a theme in common to the current murders and the Lemak killings from 13 years ago.
Former Naperville Mayor Peg Price said that in this child-oriented community, people, and especially parents, turn inward and reflect on their personal situations. “Everything revolves around kids in this town,” Price said.
Indeed. The census tells us that two out of three households in Naperville are headed by married couples. Some 28 percent of our population is under 18, a good four points above the state average. I’ve lost count of how many lists we are on touting us as one of America’s best places to raise children.
Retired Naperville Police Capt. Jon Ripsky offered similar thoughts, noting the family orientation of Naperville, and said this type of tragic event “goes to the core of what we are about.”
Murders, especially of children, are very hard not just on the community in general, but especially with those, particularly police officers and other responders, who have to deal directly with them.
Policemen, McGury said, are “trained to stop the madness,” and that even when something happens that they could have done nothing about, they often feel helpless in the face of it. The death of a child is at the top of the list of stress situations for police, he said, adding that police are trained to protect the innocent.
McGury noted that crisis intervention teams, consisting of mental health officers and police, were made available to the police in the wake of the Lemak killings, and that such efforts are helpful in helping police officers cope with what has happened.
Mayor A. George Pradel said that a crisis team meeting is scheduled for Friday with all the police and fire department personnel who were involved in the response. Pradel praised the city’s response and echoed the theme of the community’s resilience.
From my 40-year perspective as a resident and writer here I would agree that Naperville is resilient in the face of adversity.
But it has changed, too, a change that is inevitable in a city that grows from a sleepy little town to the much larger, bustling city it is today.
Mostly that change can be summed up by the word more — more people, more traffic, more bars, more restaurants, more schools, more kids, more corporate influence, more money.
Has it managed to maintain its small town atmosphere in all this growth?
To an extent.
The crime rate is enviably low for a city this size. The downtown is still safe at night, though it would seem lately that if you’re a 20-something male looking for a bar fight late Friday or Saturday night you can find one.
Would I recommend Naperville as a place to settle and raise a family?
Most certainly I would.
The latest school report cards showed 90 percent of the kids in District 203 met or exceeded state goals. Though the recession has jolted us as it has others nationwide, with job losses, foreclosures, and declining housing values, we will, I am confident, recover faster and better than most. Six out of 10 of our adult residents have college degrees — twice the state average.
To me, in these rare incidents where violence blots our city, Naperville resembles a boxer who takes a shot to the body and keeps on going, confident he will prevail.
Fortunately, violent crime is not a major issue here, which is why when it occurs it ends up as front page news and people ask, “What’s happening to Naperville?”
The answer is that though children are, indeed, murdered here as they are elsewhere across the land, by and large Naperville is a very safe place for them, as well as their parents. The magazines that exercise their powers of hyperbole by calling our town “kid friendly” are more right than wrong.
McGury pointed to the events at 888 Quin Court as indicative of a nationwide societal problem, not a Naperville one.
He also said we can learn from this, to work to see the danger signs that the threads that hold a human being together may just be unraveling.
If any place can look out for its neighbors, it’s us.
As one mother whose child goes to Brookdale School, as did 5-year-old victim Olivia Dworakowski, said, “We’re a tight knit community here. We all pull together.”