‘It was not about love or romance’: Remembering Maggie Fund supports teaching about healthy relationships

Published: Monday, October 04, 2010, 8:58 AM Updated: Monday, October 04, 2010, 3:52 PM

By Kalamazoo Gazette staff | Jonathon Gruenke | Kalamazoo Gazette

Gazette 10-9-10“The Events of October: Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus” has the blessing of Maggie Wardle’s mother and stepfather, Martha and Rick Omilian. “It’s not an easy thing to have the book out there, because it’s so painful,” Martha Omilian said. “But Rick and I don’t want any parents to go through this, and we don’t want Maggie’s death to be for nothing.”

Eleven years ago, K-College junior Neenef Odah shot to death his former girlfriend, Maggie Wardle, then turned the gun on himself.

Following is a statement from Rick and Martha Omilian, the parents of Maggie Wardle:

We wish for Maggie to be remembered as the good person and friend that she was, who was engulfed in a violent act by a young man who wanted to control and possess her. Their relationship had ended but upon their return to the Kalamazoo College campus in September 1999, they were thrust into close contact with each other on the small campus. Maggie tried to remain a friend to him and move on with her personal life. But factors in his life, both from his past and at that time in 1999, led him to make a violent choice. This was a relationship violence/domestic violence incident that occurred on a college campus in October 1999. It was not about love or romance. Gail Griffin recounts the incident and the effect on the Kalamazoo College campus in her book.

Even though it is hard for us to relive the loss of Maggie and the sheer violence and senselessness of his actions, we feel it is important that Maggie’s story be told to help others understand relationship violence and what can be done to prevent it. He was suicidal and showed actions that were of concern on the campus. When Maggie’s friends and family look back at the relationship between them, there are signs of control and aggression by Neenef. There were warnings of danger to himself and Maggie, and perhaps others. The signs were subtle and less noticeable at that time than might be seen in other domestic violence situations but they were there and can be seen in retrospection. Assumptions were made by those who cared for both of them that it was just “part of a relationship” between two young people.

Telling the story of Maggie and his part in our loss of her, we hope and feel, can lead to more people discussing what healthy relationships are, especially relationships of young adults in a tight college community. Gail Griffin’s book tells the story of what happened leading up to the death of two students on K College’s campus in 1999. One of them was our beloved Maggie. We hope, along with Gail, that telling that painful story of what happened to Maggie, will keep discussions open and help others who may be in some danger. That is why we agreed to talk with Gail over time as she gathered information to tell this important story.

Each October, when a seminar or talk by a speaker on relationship violence takes place at K College, someone comes forward, based on the discussion, with concern for themselves or a friend who is in an unhealthy relationship. Help is given to them. But we wish this discourse and assistance to be a regular occurrence in our community in schools and colleges. Children and adults need to understand more about what healthy relationships are and how to love someone without trying to control or possess them.

Maggie’s family has started a fund through the Kalamazoo Community Foundation called the Remembering Maggie Fund. To honor Maggie’s memory, we are raising money to increase the fund from our initial donation to Kalamazoo Community Foundation, so that grants can be given in the future to schools, programs, clubs, and colleges in West Michigan. The grants would be used to promote and offer funds to groups to teach young people about the components of healthy, respectful relationships. That is Maggie’s legacy. Her spirit is strong and her story can help others.

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