In the summer of 2013, 19-year-old Jessie Blodgett was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Arts Music Education Program. Like any young adult, her life plan was beginning to take shape and those who knew Jessie would say that she wanted to change the world through music. Jessie developed a keen social conscience early on, and it was her last and final cause - working to end male violence against women - that ended her life.
On July 5, 2013, Jessie was attacked, murdered, and raped by a friend - Daniel Bartelt - in her home. The story shook the Hartford community and made national news. For Buck Blodgett, Jessie’s father, it was devastating.
"She was a really brave young woman and she had causes," Buck recalls. "Ironically, her last and biggest cause in life was violence against women, and she tried to tell me about it. I listened, but I didn't get it until it happened to her."
Buck has taken on Jessie's mission to end male on female violence and created the LOVE > hate Project. He is also the author of A Message From Jessie: The Incredible True Story of Murder and Miracles in the Heartland.
"I still don't really consider myself (an author) but I consider myself someone who has a personal responsibility to share an incredibly powerful life experience that was so tragic, but from which something so beautiful came," Buck says.
After Jessie's death, he says he became more involved in his community. He also went from identifying as an atheist (along with his daughter Jessie) to believing in God. Buck says no sign was ignored or taken for granted, and it was the culmination of those events that compelled him to write Jessie's story.
"I just have this overwhelming sense or understanding that I never had before this happened four years ago of how much we affect each other. I don't know what it is in us that allows us to do such a thing to each other, but it happens everyday and we have to figure it out."
For Buck, his role in changing people's behavior is living and exemplifying the values of love and forgiveness. And, his role in the LOVE > hate Project includes initiating community projects, public awareness, and personally giving presentations to schools, organizations, churches, conferences, and prisons.
"People say to me, 'It must be very healing.' And it is, but that's not why I do it. Because if you forgive somebody in order to heal yourself, that's not really a free gift to them...in my opinion... Forgiveness really is for (Bartelt) and it's unconditional because I choose it to be that way."
Buck continues, "It's not based on him apologizing, it's not based on him acknowledging what he did, because he's done neither of those two things in four years. But that doesn't mean I can't forgive him, and it doesn't mean I don't get mad, doesn't mean I'm pleased with him or anything he's done. But it also doesn't mean I can't live with an open heart and open mind."
Daniel Bartelt is appealing his sentence for the second time. This final appeal will be heard by the Supreme Court of Wisconsin on November 14.
The news of the appeal was "an open wound again" for Buck's wife, Joy. However, Buck says that while he was upset to hear about it, he did not give it much thought and is determined to stay on his own path.
"This atheist now believes that God is not only love, that God is also truth. And when one separates themselves from the truth so cataclysmically like Dan has, he's also separated himself from love and forgiveness."
Buck's bigger focus is helping to end male on female violence, and he says that starts with people sharing their stories - just as the people in his community did after Jessie's death.
"When I started to self-educate about this issue Jessie tried to tell me about I realized that the number one barrier, the biggest challenge we have is the shroud of silence, that secrecy around it all. Dan, the young man who killed Jess, he brought a certain something into our world and changed it forever. Well, now it's my turn and it's Jessie's turn. Her voice is stolen so now it's on me to be her voice and to be my voice."
Buck encourages those who have suffered to find their voice again. "Find someone you can trust, find your courage, and then find your voice. Tell your story and you'll find your freedom and your power too. It's the shroud of silence that keeps this thing in place."
The LOVE > hate Project is hosting an event of learning and community action in Hartford on November 9 - A Call to Action: No More Jessie's. The event will also feature a screening of the documentary, Us Thereafter, which is about Jessie’s and other stories about domestic violence.