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A man seeks forgiveness, his victim seeks justice

A recovering alcoholic contacts a woman he harmed two decades ago. But for her, it's not about making amends.

March 11, 2007|Kristen Gelineau | Associated Press Writer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — William Beebe had been haunted by that night for years.

He'd tried to send the letter before, and failed. Just as he'd failed to stick with Alcoholics Anonymous. Just as he'd failed at so much in life.

This time, he was staying with the 12-step program. But should he really take that ninth step?

It told him to make amends to those he'd hurt -- unless doing so would injure them further.

Some had warned him to leave it alone. But he'd prayed on it.

And he began to write.

"You got a letter," Mike Seccuro said, tossing an envelope onto his wife's lap as he climbed behind the wheel of their minivan.

"Who lives in Vegas?" Liz Seccuro wondered as she saw the postmark. Then her eyes stopped on the sender's name.

She froze.

It was a name she had not uttered in 20 years.

Her body suddenly felt cold, her brain fuzzy. With shaking hands, she opened the envelope.

"Dear Elizabeth," the letter began. "In 1984 I harmed you."

She wept.

She was Liz Schimpf then, a petite 17-year-old from Yonkers, N.Y., just a few weeks into her first year at the University of Virginia.

The fraternity brother tending bar at Phi Kappa Psi handed her a green concoction.

Exactly what happened next during the early morning hours of Oct. 5, 1984, remains unclear. This is what she remembers:

The drink made her feel strange and panicky.

William Beebe, a student she didn't know, dragged her to his room. He pulled her onto his lap, kissed her neck, her ear.

Repulsed, she pulled free and bolted from the room.

"Help me!" she screamed.

A brother tossed her at Beebe, then left.

Beebe tore off her clothes and threw her on the bed.

She was a virgin. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen.

His weight was crushing her, his smell a nauseating mix of alcohol and body odor. She fought him, clamped her legs shut. He pried them open.

The pain was blinding. She couldn't breathe.

She passed out.

Lights. Movement. Voices. Touching.

Darkness.

In the minivan, Liz Seccuro was crying so hard that her frightened daughter began to wail.

"I can scarcely begin to understand the degree to which, through your eyes, my behavior has affected you in its wake," Beebe had written. "Still, I stand prepared to hear from you about just how, and in what ways, you've been affected, and to begin to set right the wrong I've done."

Over the next week, she felt afraid and vulnerable. Was her family in danger?

The questions finally overwhelmed her. She grabbed her BlackBerry.

"How can you live with yourself?" she typed.

He e-mailed back the next day.

"I always felt tremendous guilt for the ways in which I imagined my conduct had damaged you, and for years too the only solution seemed to be the bottle, which worked less and less over time to assuage the guilt," he wrote. "This is to say that the way that I lived with myself was of course not really living at all.

"It appears I have laid the groundwork for a shattered life, and I simply do not know what to do, save for doing what you ask."

Seccuro didn't know what to do either. Yet she wondered: Why had he done what he'd done?

The only way to find out, she reasoned, was to write back. So began a two-month e-mail correspondence. Seccuro told Beebe of the devastating effects of his actions; Beebe detailed the devastating effects of the bottle.

After that night in 1984, Seccuro was never the same. She reported the attack to university officials and campus police, she said, but felt dismissed and disbelieved.

She became a loner. Her grades plummeted. At 22, she entered a tumultuous marriage that quickly unraveled.

Part of her felt dead. Panic attacks were frequent and frightening.

Gradually, life improved. She married Mike, gave birth to beautiful Ava, and found success as an event planner in Greenwich, Conn.

But she never stopped wondering what had become of Beebe.

His life, too, had been filled with misery, he wrote. After that night, he was summoned to the dean's office and told of possible judicial proceedings.

"I was pinned by my failure as a person," he wrote. "A day or so later I withdrew from UVA, unwilling to step up to the plate."

Even then, he wrote, his drinking was a problem. One afternoon, it hit him: Was he an alcoholic?

He entered rehab and moved home. A month later, he was drinking again.

Over the next nine years, he wrote, he exhausted his parents, employers and friends. Women dismissed him as a drunken, selfish slob.

He arrived at AA in 1993, after years of trying to get sober in the fellowship, he wrote. This time, he stayed.

From the moment he read AA's eighth step -- making a list of those he'd harmed -- he wanted to contact Seccuro. But his sponsor said that would only hurt her.

As the years passed, Beebe wrote, his sponsor fell off the wagon. The man later told him he'd started drinking again over unfinished amends.

Beebe's new sponsor told him to pray and search for Seccuro. Twice he wrote her, but the addresses were wrong and the letters were returned. Eventually, he tried again.

Seccuro read Beebe's e-mails with growing unease.

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