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Sorority stands up for fallen sister

Batavia vigil

What: Candlelight vigil in memory of Andrea Will

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Peg Bond Center, 151 Island Ave., Batavia (on the Riverwalk)

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

I never knew Andrea Will, but I have a feeling this young Kappa Sig would be mighty proud.

The angry voices of her sorority sisters — via Facebook — have morphed into a groundswell of protest against the early release of her killer from prison on Tuesday. And on that same day, candlelight vigils will be held in her hometown of Batavia as well as across the nation to honor her memory and to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence.

The protest comes in the aftermath of my column from 10 days ago that revealed Andrea’s killer, St. Charles resident Justin Boulay, will not only be released after serving only half of his 24-year sentence for first-degree murder, but he’ll be living in Hawaii with the woman he married while in prison, a professor at the University of Hawaii.

Boulay, Andrea’s former boyfriend, strangled the freshman at Eastern Illinois University with a telephone cord in February 1998, after luring her to his apartment on the pretense he had a birthday gift for her. These facts have also caught the attention of Honolulu’s prosecutor, who tried to block Boulay’s entry to the island, in part because he fears for the safety of coeds there.

At the center of this story is Andrea Wills’ mother, Patty Rosenberg. The Batavia woman has been bolstered by the outrage and the support of more than 1,200 members on Facebook’s “Voices for Andrea Faye Will.”

Once Rosenberg planned her Fox Valley vigil for Tuesday, others followed suit. As of Saturday, there will be 28 additional memorials taking place at the exact same time as the one in Batavia — including at the University of Hawaii. Those who can’t make any of the vigils have been asked to display on their Facebook pages a photo of the candle that had burned at Andrea’s first vigil in Charleston, home of EIU, soon after she was killed.

The Facebook page that united the masses was created by Michelle Gaddini, a sorority sister who had graduated and was working as an admissions counselor at EIU when Andrea was killed. Formerly of Lisle and now living in northern California, Gaddini “was deeply impacted” by the murder, as were so many students on campus. Since reading about Boulay’s release, she’s “been unable to sleep.”

And so, a movement was organized to “remember Andrea and fight for other victims.” In addition to the vigil, sorority members are contacting legislators and other officials, searching for more national publicity and seeking other avenues of advocacy.

It’s obvious from speaking to some of these young women, as well as reading the hundreds of Internet postings, the story has opened a floodgate of painful memories. While most of Andrea’s sorority sisters and other friends have gone on to become teachers, businesswomen, administrators, mothers and wives, “It felt like it happened yesterday,” said Sally Zikas, a close sorority friend of Andrea’s, who now lives in Tinley Park “It’s been hard on most of us, but these memories needed to be addressed.”

It’s particularly difficult for Michelle Voigt-Felde, who was among the last to see Andrea alive. Even 12 years later, the Chicago-area teacher becomes emotional as she recounts how she was on the phone in their dorm room when Andrea rushed out that cold night on Feb. 2, 1998.

Voigt-Felde said she’d had many discussions with Andrea about Boulay’s increasingly violent and manipulative behavior. Had she known where her roommate was headed, Voigt-Felde says she “would have done everything in my power to prevent” her friend from meeting him that night.

“It could have saved her,” she says, her voice choking with regret.

Still, like Andrea’s mother, Voigt-Felde knows that, as raw as her emotions have become over this recent turn of events, there’s also healing that is taking place.

“Andrea’s spirit is burning brighter than ever and I know we will all grow closer through this,” wrote one friend. “She would be so filled with love and completely blown away by how many people in this world love her, appreciate her talents and funny sense of humor, and remember most what a sweet personality she had.”

It’s not just sorority sisters who have been drawn to this story.

“Andrea and her family ... have been forgotten by a system that is supposed to protect and serve them. In situations like this, people feel helpless and hopeless,” Batavia High classmate Stacie Barnett wrote in an e-mail to me last week. “Right now we need to do something, anything, to feel like (Andrea) has not died in vain.”

The controversy about Boulay’s release and move to Hawaii is one thing, notes Voigt-Felde. But the real synergy should focus on the ongoing problem of domestic violence. “We need to use this as a chance for Andrea’s voice to be heard again,” she told me.

And what would Andrea want to say?

“She would want us to help others who are in abusive relationships ... to help them get out,” says Voigt-Felde. “That’s what we want these vigils to be about.”

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