By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
In an attempt to tamp down the hysteria, both Newmark and Craigslist CEO Jim Buckmaster have taken to the TV airwaves. Both men were greeted with considerable skepticism. Newmark’s April 24 appearance on Nightline came across as less an interview and more of an ambush, with the balding computer programmer cornered at his desk by interviewer Martin Bashir. Buckmaster’s interview on CNN that same week was more cordial and nuanced, but he was nonetheless on the defensive.
In full damage-control mode, Newmark has become considerably harder to reach, rebuffing The New York Times and The Boston Globe and insisting on seeing interview questions ahead of time.
Which makes it all the more remarkable that on May 3, he spoke in public, at a memorial concert in Katherine Olson’s honor.
Before a throng of cameras, the Olson family stood shoulder to shoulder in front of their home in Cottage Grove to address the world. Rolf and his son, Karl, bookended Nancy and daughter Sarah Richter. It was the day after they received news of Katherine’s death. Their heads looked heavy as they took questions from the press.
“We know where Katherine is,” said Nancy. “So we are not afraid for Katherine. We will miss her terribly. She was a bright light and free spirit.”
Early the next week, Rolf went to his office at Richfield Lutheran Church, where he is a pastor. In the mail was a FedEx envelope from San Francisco. He looked at the name, but couldn’t make it out. He opened it and found a letter from Craig Newmark. It took him a moment to realize it was “Craig” from Craigslist. “Nothing fancy, just a sheet of paper with his handwritten message with his sincere condolence,” Rolf says. “He said, ‘Please contact me if you want to talk further. Here’s my e-mail, here’s my phone number, I’m available anytime.’ ”
That Wednesday, October 31, Rolf took a seat with his family in the first pew of Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina. Surrounding them were 1,600 friends, family, and classmates of Katherine, along with the police officers who investigated the case.
“We may never know why there had to be such a violent and senseless death,” Rev. Tom Koelln told the mourners. “But we know that the darkness will not overcome the light.”
A few days later, Rolf found himself once again at his church office. He remembered the letter from Craig and decided to contact him. “I did e-mail him and said, ‘Thank you for your condolence,’ ” Rolf recalls. “And while I was still sitting in the office I got an e-mail back from him. I mean it was like ping-ping. Again, he said, ‘If there is anything we can do to support your efforts, don’t hesitate to contact me.’ ”
Throughout the ordeal, the family members took walks around their neighborhood to think. It was during these talks that they came up with the idea for a memorial concert in Katherine’s honor. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be a cool idea?’” recalls Nancy.
Rolf thought back to his contact with Newmark, but he wasn’t sure how to approach the company. He spent hours crafting a concise message. “So I sent an e-mail off to Jim Buckmaster, their CEO, and was hoping I was very clear with purposes for the concert and what my costs were and asked would they care to donate,” says Rolf.
Buckmaster wrote back a message in all lowercase letters: “sure. sounds great ... let us know what you need.”
“It was so informal,” remembers Sarah, Katherine’s older sister. “And that’s how they are. It’s like a brief text you would send to your friend.”
One year after Katherine’s death, the Olson family flew to New York to appear on the Today show. It was their first return to the national media spotlight. Moments before the taping, Sarah was on the phone with a representative from Craigslist asking if she could announce their partnership in the concert.
“They didn’t hesitate,” she says. “And I think a company, sometimes they would be leery about putting their names on the line. But they were up front right away to say, ‘Nope. This is important to us. This is an important statement.’ And that was surprising to us. It took no more than, what, 30 minutes?”
As the camera focused, the Olson family appeared with smiles. When host Meredith Vieira asked Rolf why they chose to finally talk to the media, he answered, “One of our philosophies that we’ve operated with since Katherine died is we want to leverage as much good as we can out of this wretched experience. So today, we’re here to talk about Katherine, to let her legacy live and have her be defined by her life, and not by her death.”