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Craigslist victim’s family: ‘We’re doing better’

Nancy Olson loves to tell the story about the day her daughter, Katherine, surprised the mother of the children she was nannying.“She found her standing upside down, doing the splits, on her head, singing at the top of her lungs while the children were plunking away at the piano,” Olson says, recalling the scene the mother found when she arrived home. “That, in a nutshell, really describes h
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Nancy Olson loves to tell the story about the day her daughter, Katherine, surprised the mother of the children she was nannying.

“She found her standing upside down, doing the splits, on her head, singing at the top of her lungs while the children were plunking away at the piano,” Olson says, recalling the scene the mother found when she arrived home. “That, in a nutshell, really describes her.”

Nancy Olson told this story to TODAY’s Meredith Vieira in New York Friday as the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s murder approaches. She was accompanied by her husband, the Rev. Rolf Olson, and her eldest daughter and Katherine’s sister, Sarah Richter.

The crime quickly became known in the media as the “Craigslist murder” because of the way Katherine met her end. A recent graduate of St. Olaf College in her native Minnesota, the 24-year-old woman had answered a Craigslist ad for a nanny’s position.

Instead of a job, she got a bullet in the back and died.

Katherine’s body was found a day later stuffed in the trunk of her car, which was abandoned at a nature preserve near the town of Savage, Minn., where the murder occurred. A trail of evidence that police have characterized as “overwhelming” quickly led to the arrest of a suspect, 19-year-old Michael Anderson.

Police said Anderson placed the ad and committed the crime. He remains in jail pending a trial that may not begin for another year. His lawyer, who declined to be interviewed by TODAY, has indicated he will attempt to argue that Anderson is mentally ill.

The facts of the crime, recounted in a prerecorded report that aired before the Olsons spoke with Vieira, resurrected the shock of learning that their daughter had been taken from them.

“Even to see the piece here, it brings us right back,” Nancy Olson said. She characterized the stage of the grieving process the family is in as “horrible shock.”

Despite that shock, the family is determined after a year of staying away from the media to make something lasting and good from their tragedy.

“One of our philosophies that we’ve operated with since Katherine died is we want to leverage as much good as we can out of this wretched experience,” Rolf Olson told Vieira. “So today, we’re here to talk about Katherine, to let her legacy live and have her be defined by her life, not by her death.”

“What was she like?” Vieira asked.

“Katherine was exuberant, zany, chaotic, random, brilliant,” Nancy Olson told Vieira.

“High energy,” added her husband.

Katherine Olson had been a co-valedictorian of her high-school class and loved adventure and travel. She had a deep love for music and theater. She also had a deep affection for Latino culture and was fluent in Spanish. To preserve her memory, the family established a fund to provide scholarships for Latinos and are in the process of planning a spring concert to benefit the fund.

Craigslist has signed on as a partner in organizing the concert. “We were devastated to learn what had happened to Katherine, and deeply saddened for the Olson family,” the Internet site’s CEO, Jim Buckmaster, said in a statement sent to TODAY.

“Their response to the tragedy has been inspirational, and we are honored that the Olsons have invited us to partner with them in celebrating Katherine’s memory.”

The Olsons do not blame Craigslist for Katherine’s death. The massive online bulletin board gets 12 billion page views a month and gets millions of job postings. Katherine had used the Web site before to get jobs, including a nanny position in Turkey, and Richter still visits Craigslist regularly.

Rolf and Nancy Olson have attended all of the pretrial hearings for Anderson, and intend to be in the courtroom for his trial. It is painful, but the Olsons see it as an obligation.

“This is probably our last act of parenting for Katherine,” Rolf Olson said of attending the legal proceedings. “We intend to be there to support Katherine. We’ve had a wonderful cheering section, too. People continually come up and want to support us. They’ve been going to the pretrial hearings with us and supporting us and praying for us.”

After Katherine’s death, the Olsons received thousands of cards and e-mails from around the world from people expressing sympathy. Some 3,000 people attended her funeral.

In that response, the family has found solace and an answer for people who ask “Where is God in all this?”

Rolf Olson said his response is, “All the hugs and all the cards and all the gifts we’ve received is like God’s arms wrapped around us.”