According to information gathered in newspaper articles and interviews with friends and family, Debbie met James D. McCollum at a bar she often frequented. They played a trivial pursuit type video game for a while, and then went bar hopping. Debbie's parents and local authorities believe McCollum tried to force himself on Debbie. When things didn't go his way, McCollum started beating her. He was picked up on March 29, 1998, charged with first-degree murder and held at St. Louis County Jail without bail.
I first met Debbie at a Pundit staff meeting at NMSU. We were both wanna-be journalists trying to make names for ourselves as writers for an alternative newspaper on an otherwise mainstream Missouri college campus. Naturally, we became friends.
We also joined -- separately -- a co-ed service fraternity patterned after the boy scouts called Alpha Phi Omega. It was in this organization that I got to know Debbie a little better.
I had the benefit of being spoon fed the details of Debbie's death. First I heard that a friend had attended Debbie's funeral. Well, that could mean she died of some sickness. But I investigated and got an email paraphrasing the details. So I knew she had been killed. Then I asked a friend at a Springfield newspaper to look into the matter. And I got the knowledge that I can never unknow. Debbie's parents didn't have this luxury. They went from thinking their daughter had gone off on one of her usual rebellious tirades to finding out she had been taken from this earth in a most unnatural manner.
It would be so easy to hate McCollum. Create a demon in my mind's eye and label him Jim. But that won't bring Debbie back. In the press release, it says that Jim surrendered without incident, which is journalismese for "he really wasn't a bad guy except for this beating a girl to death thing." Jim McCollum didn't wake up that March 24th morning with the intention of beating a person to death. That doesn't exonerate him from his crime, but it should provide some perspective.
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