My sister Sacha was 12 years old when she was brutally murdered by a newly adopted foster brother, 14 years old. This took place in Henderson, Nebraska in September 1987. The crime was horrific and tore our family apart. My parents have been in hiding. Our lives have been destroyed by this brutal crime.
Sacha was a sweet young girl who was just coming into her own. She loved everyone and everyone was her friend. She was very quiet unless she saw some injustice, and then she became a wildcat. She was passionate about animals and wanted to work with them when she grew up. She was wonderful with children, especially my then 3 year old.
It makes us all angry how much time we have had to focus on the offender, keeping him in jail – still getting all the attention. We thank God he was tried and sentenced as an adult. We had him in our home from the age of 3. He was raised strictly Christian, so he clearly knew right from wrong. He KNEW what he was doing. Several weeks before he murdered her, he had made a list of everyone he wanted to kill. He was acting alone. It was not impulsive. It was well-planned. He got bullets in advance, and broke into a locked room and locked safe to steal a gun.
– Sharon Hanke
“…(F)ear and the feeling of betrayal can escalate and overcome people. They may begin to believe an inmate can somehow reach out from prison and harass or kill them. Or that he will get out and track them down.
Hanke said the turmoil changed who she was.
“I had to make a choice whether to be a victim — scared, depressed, angry — or to stand up and become stronger,” she said.
She and her brother Shea, who goes by a different name today, said they think about Sacha all the time and miss her.
The Thieszens adopted Sacha girl in 1977 when she was 18 months old. She was so malnourished she was about the size of a 9-month-old, Hanke said. She couldn’t speak and could barely feed herself.
Ten years later, the 5-foot-3 inch, 85-pound girl with long, dark hair and braces was enjoying life. She was quiet and shy on the edge of her teenage years, and experiencing her first crush.
Then-13-year-old Shea found his sister’s body late that September day in 1987 after returning from the farm field with his dad. They had noticed the family van was missing as they drove up, and his dad had taken off to look for Sydney.
“The sight of her laying in the bathtub with her pants unzipped, bullet holes in her chest, blood all over except her extremely pale skin that used to be a golden tan, has never left my mind,” he said. “I can see it as clear as the day I found her.”
After her death, Shea left the family.
“If there ever was some kind of bond between the parents and children, it was a fragile one at best,” he said. “The bond was mostly between the children. In my case, I was closest to Sacha.”
He went his own way, landing in a few foster homes and eventually Boys Town.
“I did not have contact with other family members until the last trial and keep in contact only with Sharon,” he said.
Sydney was 5 when he came to the family in 1978 from foster homes and a traumatic childhood with his biological mother. He was a wonderful, lovable boy, Hanke said, outgoing and intelligent.
At 12, his behavior changed, both at home and at school. He became moody, troubled and unhappy, Hanke said.
“I know my parents didn’t think it was anything more than a teenage thing,” she said. “They had no idea he was capable of that kind of violence.”
Hanke attended every day of the 1996 trial.
“There was a lot of stuff I didn’t know, and didn’t want to know,” she said.
She doesn’t understand why her brother committed the crime, and she knows she never will.
But seeing his face on the front page of the paper last week threw her.
“I now have a new mission in life — to fight this proposed bill and educate the community about what my family has had to endure since
“Sacha was brutally taken away from us at the hands of Sydney Thieszen,” she said. “I am appalled there is even the smallest chance that he might have an opportunity for parole.”
The crime was heinous, said Shea, and Sydney should never be allowed to return to society. He cannot be reformed, he said.
Hanke said her brother chose his violence and he needs to be held accountable.
“I am honestly afraid he would hurt someone again,” she said. “I agree that the (juvenile justice) system needs fixing, but the solution is not to set young murderers and rapists free.”