A man is scheduled to be executed soon for the kidnapping, rape and murder of a girl in a Tempe apartment complex more than a quarter-century ago. (See related story.)
For many of us who lived in the Valley at the time of the senseless incident, the victim’s name, Christy Ann Fornoff, is remembered almost instantaneously, recalling a time when an entire community was sickened, its faith and innocence shattered. For thousands of parents, Fornoff — killed on May 9, 1984, five days after her 13th birthday — could have been their son or daughter.
For many more children, including me, she could have been them.
At the time, Fornoff was a student at Connolly Middle School; I attended nearby Fees Intermediate School. Both fed into Marcos de Niza High School, where I attended with some of Fornoff’s former Connolly classmates. Fornoff was collecting payments for her newspaper route when she was abducted; I often helped out or filled in for a friend on his route.
Maybe those similarities are the biggest reason I have never forgotten Fornoff’s name. Or it could be the picture of her that was on the front page of every paper and led every television newscast for days.
Life in the Valley was much different then; the Phoenix metro area was less than half of its current population of 4.1 million. There were big-city crime realities, for sure, but nothing that held the attention of the entire area — particularly during the two days she was missing. Ask anyone who remembers: Fornoff’s disappearance and death was a big, big story.
Donald Beaty, the maintenance supervisor at the apartment complex where Fornoff disappeared, said he found her body behind a trash Dumpster. Ten days later, he was arrested for the murder and is slated to be executed on May 25.
People were outraged and disgusted — but most of all, scared.
“There was a sense of fear; it was pervading everything,” Peter DeCindis, a teacher at Connolly at the time of the murder, told the Tribune in 2004. “Every little kid was looking over their shoulder coming home. Parents coming to pick up their kids — no one was going to let their kid walk home.”
I lived the first nine years of my life in Indiana. On weekend and summer days, I, my sister, cousins and friends were often our own child care, heading off to play wherever in the mornings and not expected back home until dinner time. Our safety was not given a second thought.
Today, I will not let my boys go to the park behind our Gilbert home without them being in my line of sight.
After Fornoff’s death, more adults began handling newspaper routes, with each day’s edition more likely to be tossed into a driveway from a moving car than an over-the-shoulder bag. And technology has enabled billing to be conducted electronically, not door-to-door.
No, what happened to Fornoff did not result in all this. Her death was simply a symptom of an evolving society.
Through it all, life has gone on.
No Connolly teachers were available for recollection; a Tempe Elementary School District spokeswoman said that all of the faculty at the school when Fornoff died have retired or moved on. Harry Mitchell, then the mayor of Tempe who wrote a letter of condolence to the Fornoff family, declined an interview request through a spokesman. Even Fornoff’s parents, Carol and Roger, no longer live in Tempe.
But for myself and many others, Christy Ann Fornoff will live on in our memories, a name and face associated with tragedy and times changing.
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