In Cottage Grove, the Olson family home shows signs of the spring thaw. The front lawn is returning to a deep green shade, and a carton of unplanted pansies sits on the front porch. Inside, the voices of the St. Olaf choir sing through a set of Bose speakers atop matching bookshelves.

Rolf and Nancy just returned from a trip to the Grand Canyon. The two hiked partway down the majestic gorge, and their legs are still feeling it. "You get no rest," says Rolf, stretching his foot. The couple took the vacation as a brief respite before their week ahead. The Concert for Katherine is finally upon them.

Craigslist creator Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster are weathering a storm of criticism.
Gene X. Hwang
Craigslist creator Craig Newmark and CEO Jim Buckmaster are weathering a storm of criticism.
Katherine Olson was killed after responding to a babysitting ad on Craigslist.
Courtesy of the Olson Family
Katherine Olson was killed after responding to a babysitting ad on Craigslist.

Details

See a timeline of the Craigslist Murders and a tribute to Katherine Olson in these slide shows.

"Hopefully," says Rolf, "this will be our last week with media for some time. Then we can return to somewhat normalcy."

Rolf offers a Pepsi, then coffee, and a Pepsi one more time before sitting down on a cream-colored couch with his wife and Sarah. Near the couch is the kitchen table where Katherine used to sit, reading a book and munching away on a bag of Honey Nut Cheerios. Nancy laughs at how much the "crunch-crunch" sound annoyed her. While happy, each memory ends with the fight to hold back tears.

As the conversation moves back to Craigslist, the family members talk about their disgust with the 48 Hours Mystery episode they watched the night before. The show, "Craigslist: Classified for Murder?" nags at Sarah. It hurt her to see a full hour dedicated to bashing a company that's helped her family so much.

"There are evil people out there," says Sarah. "And unfortunately, Craigslist is built for everyday people. And so someone that has ill will, someone psychotic, like Michael Anderson or this medical student, they are going to take it for what it is worth. It's a free tool and they will take advantage of it. And evil people will take advantage of whatever they can."

The family is most worried that the lurid events in Boston will eclipse their memorial. Splash News, a British gossip Web site, and Geraldo Rivera are pursuing Nancy and Rolf for interviews. The 48 Hours Mystery crew even tried to get Sarah on film while she was away in Milwaukee at a funeral.

"We have been through hell. This is our celebration," says Nancy. "We don't want evil to have the last word."

UPDATE on May 3, 2009:

On a cloudless May 3, about 700 of Katherine Olson’s friends and family gathered at Grace Church, a colossal house of worship in Eden Prairie, about 15 miles southwest of Minneapolis. The last time this group had been together was at Katherine’s funeral, but those gathered on this day eschewed black clothing in favor of pastel-colored spring attire. There were no tears among the congregants, no Kleenexes hastily passed. This was to be a day of celebration.

When it came time to begin, five members of the Olson family took the stage to subdued applause. Trailing behind in a black suit worn over a tieless maroon dress shirt was Craig Newmark. After a brief introduction by Sarah, Newmark approached the podium, grabbed the microphone, and leaned over his prepared remarks.

“I am really, really humbled and really honored to have been invited here today to speak at this tribute to Katherine, extended by the whole Olson family,” Newmark told the crowd. “I was personally sickened and horrified when I heard about this tragedy. I started Craigslist around 14 years ago as a way to give back to the community.”

Rolf stood behind Newmark, gazing thoughtfully at the crowd.

“Despite the billions of times well-meaning people have helped each other through Craigslist, it’s been devastating to see that it can also be used by bad people to take cruel advantage of others and bring a senseless end to a beautiful young life,” Newmark continued. “The most recent crime in Boston has been a grim reminder of that.”

It became clear he wasn’t speaking just on behalf of Katherine, but also on behalf of reason and personal responsibility in the age of the Internet.

“I’m saddened that we met under these circumstances, but I am truly inspired by the Olson family and I extend my love and friendship to them,” Newmark concluded. “And I applaud everyone’s effort to let Katherine’s light continue to shine.”

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1 comments
Jane
Jane

What a great, thought-provoking article on Craigslist! And polarizing, to boot!

I have some things to say and forgive me for speaking disrespectfully about the dead. Let me preface this by saying that I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I believe that the folks at Craigslist are being blamed for things that aren't their fault. In our world today, people need to remember "Caveat Emptor." If you answer an ad on Craigslist for rough sex, you might get rough sex, and you might get killed.If you're a prostitute, oh whoops, I mean massage therapist, and you advertise your services on Craigslist, you might get killed.

And, if you answer an ad for a babysitter, you might get killed. (And this is where I feel badly for speaking disrespectfully about Katherine Olson...)

Are you freakin' kiddin' me??!! What kind of a mother would run an ad on Craigslist for a babysitter for their 5 year old??!! And then hire someone sight-unseen??!! NO DECENT MOTHER. And that should have been a red-flag for Katherine. She should have seen red-flags everywhere all over that ad!

"Hi, I don't know you, I've never met you, but please come to my home where I'm going to leave my 5 year old alone with a TOTAL AND COMPLETE stranger." Totally unrealistic scenario.

Wouldn't you want to meet such an awful parent first to see what the deal was? What kind of environment the home is? Every cop in the world tells you that you don't go to a total stranger's home! You meet in a Starbucks first, or something like that...you don't just answer an ad & show up at a person's home. If you do, you might get killed.

I have no problem with organized religion...but here is where it failed Katherine Olson...the daughter of a Pastor, God is good, and God will save you, and people are good, and rainbows and butterflies are beautiful, and always believe the best in people...BLAH, BLAH, BLAH...how about, not all people are good, some are pyschos, and God didn't save the Pastor's daughter from a brutal death, because she was silly enough to beleive that it's all good...but it's not.

People need to take responsibility for their own actions and stop putting the blame on everyone else.

Caveat emptor...let the buyer beware.

 
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