Dawn Romig’s Speech before the Pennsylvania Legislature
My name is Dawn Romig. Our daughter Danni Reese Romig was brutally beaten, raped , strangled to death and thrown in a river 11 days after her 12th birthday by a 17 year old “juvenile” who lived right around the corner from our home. She was a 6th grader at South Mountain Middle School. She was very popular and had lots of friends who still love her, remember her, and miss her very much. She was very loving, caring, and vibrant, with amazing potential. She was just starting to blossom into a lovely young girl. She was discovering pretty clothes, and the value of brushing her hair. She had a passion for animals. She dreamed that one day she would be a veterinarian. She also loved being a big sister. At home, she had a younger sister, Destiny and a new baby brother, Darryl Jr. Danni loved teaching him how to walk all around the house. She beamed with pride in helping him achieve his success.
The day we buried Danni he walked all the way across the living room by himself for the very first time. We like to think she was right there with him holding his little hands helping him along. Danni was a loving and nurturing big sister to Destiny also. Danni and Destiny were the very best of friends. They shared a bedroom together and they loved every minute of it. They played games, played with dolls, drew and colored pictures, and rode their bikes together. Unlike a lot of sisters who argue and fuss, Danni and Destiny learned from each other to love and share the tender experiences of their young lives. I give tremendous credit to Danni for contributing to the kind and loving young girl that Destiny is today. I see Danni every day, in Destiny; with the love she has for her little brother. Danni definitely taught her well how to be a great big sister.
Danni and her father, Darryl, had a very close relationship. Darryl suffers with severe asthma and is a stay at home Dad. All day, everyday, they played pranks on each other and were always making jokes. Danni was a good child who followed the rules. How many times she would open the front door and holler to her Dad begging him for 15 more minutes to play with her friends, always at the time she was due home. When Danni uncharacteristically did not come home on time that dreadful evening, after asking for the extra time, I knew something was wrong. After forming our own search team, Darryl led the way through the bitter cold and snow. Being a father in distress and fear searching for his child that night, adrenalin took over his mind and body, and it was like he had no asthma. His tireless efforts were unsuccessful; he could not find our precious daughter. Darryl’s health has gotten much worse over the past 6 years. His asthma has him totally disabled. I can’t help but feel that the impact of the loss of our daughter has contributed to his decline. I try to be the strong one for all of us. I am the voice for Danni’s rights and the rights of past and future victims. The world seems to have lost its sense of accountability. Danni had a right to expect to live her life and follow her dreams. She was robbed of that right by this “juvenile” who needs to understand that everything you do in life impacts your life; the good and the bad. And this was bad. This was wrong and tragic and needless. I believe that if a juvenile is old enough to think he or she can take someone’s life in such a senseless and violent manner, then they need to clearly understand the consequences and suffer the appropriate punishment. They choose to make these decisions and in doing that, they choose to accept the consequences of those same decisions. Danni had no choice; she was at the mercy of this offender. His age is really irrelevant as it was an adult act he pursued. Why should these juveniles NOT get “life in prison”? In my eyes he deserves to be put to death immediately like his victim was. Age cannot excuse what they have done. Danni’s life is gone; it is over. Just as he took her life, he should pay with his life as well. Letting him go free, no matter if he serves 80 years or 5 years, would send a message to him that it was okay because he was only 17. I’m sorry, but what he did to my daughter is not okay at any age. The heinous things he did should never be considered as pardonable; otherwise her death becomes even more senseless. Our case turned into a death penalty case when the rape kit turned out positive. Our District Attorney asked us if we wanted to pursue the death penalty or accept the plea of life in prison. We did not seek to end Brian’s life, even though he ended our daughter’s life. He needs to live every day and think about what he has done. I also did not want my family and my children to go through appeals for the next 20 years. It would not be fair to any of us. It wouldn’t bring Danni back. But I do seek justice; justice for a life cut short; justice for a life of promise and hope that ended violently and mercilessly at the hands of a “juvenile” by technicality, who carried out a cognitive adult act that ended the life of my daughter.
February 26th 2003 was the worst day of our lives. It began when a boy Danni knew came to the door asking her if she wanted to go to the playground. The offender thoughtfully manipulated this much younger boy into going to get Danni because he knew she would gladly accompany him to the playground, setting his evil plan in motion.
Knowing in his mind what he planned to do, he could not show his face at our door. Danni came home at exactly 4:50 pm to check in and ask if she can go up there to play for a little while longer. She was told to be home by 5:30 to eat dinner with the family. A half hour turned into an hour and then into two hours. Panic set in. At 7:00 that evening I called the police to report her missing. Shortly after that we had formed our own search team. We talked to all her friends and everyone we talked to said they saw her with the teenager we knew who had lived right around the corner from us. I knew of him from seeing him from time to time around the neighborhood. My husband had gone to his home and He answered the door. He asked him if he saw Danni that she hadn’t come home for dinner.He said he hadn’t seen her since she was walking home from the bus stop after school. A bold faced calculated lie right into the face of the father of the girl he had just willfully and brutally murdered. This was not the act of a flustered young juvenile; it was the adult act of a cold blooded killer. A few more hours went by and we had nothing. I was contacted around 10:00 that night after a close family friend called a detective friend of his. Shortly after that there were so many police officers, police dogs and even a helicopter looking for our daughter. The feelings we were going through and the thoughts of something bad having happened to her were just unbearably anguishing. It was pure horror; unbridled fear to the utmost intensity. Our child was missing. Every parent’s worst nightmare was playing out in the reality of our lives right then and there.
I was just praying and thinking of where she was and if she was okay. After hours of pacing and worrying, we finally got the horrific answers for most of our terrifying questions. They needed a picture of Danni to get a positive ID. They told us they found a young blond haired girl that met Danni’s description. Our worst fears were now facts. Danni was dead. How do you process that? How do you make it make sense? A few hours later the chief of police came over to our home and told us they had a suspect in custody. Our pain was so terribly great, I hadn’t even thought of who could have hurt our precious loving girl; I was shocked to know how fast they found someone.
In the coming days I had to step up and take control, because my husband could not physically do it. For the first time in my life, I had to make funeral arrangements. For my child!! Not a parent or a grand parent…..my CHILD!!! Children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around. In shock and grief I numbly went through the process of burying our daughter. Everyone we spoke to that helped with the arrangements treated us so well. My father helped us with the funeral home because he knew the director. The love and support, from so many people and from the community, the help financially from those who donated money; it was so amazing to see this community come together like it did. But at such a tragic cost.
Every step I took for the funeral and the burial was what Danni would have wanted and what she liked; who she was. I was told I needed to get her clothes to wear. Right away I thought of her brand new dress she was supposed to wear for a special school trip. The funeral director called me and said she could not wear that dress because she was so badly beaten that the bruises on her arms and her neck were so great and getting darker as the hours went by. So, I had to get her a shirt that had long sleeves and high neck to cover telling marks of the horror of what she had suffered as she died. I chose a purple shirt, (her favorite color) and sporty pants with her favorite tweety socks and her Tweety blanket from her old bed to her new bed. She looked so precious and peaceful like she was sleeping. All I kept praying for her to wake up and say “HAHA Mommy, fooled you!!!” But it didn’t happen. To this day it still feels like a bad dream. And to this day I hate leaving the cemetery because I feel like I’m leaving her behind. I just want to take her home with me. Her grave stone is heart shaped with a Tweety angel on it with “Jesus loves me” written on it. Because, as I was cleaning out her locker from school, I found pieces of paper with crosses that she had drawn on them with those three words written across the papers. I keep thinking that she is in Heaven asking God to make a wonderful place for her family. And she probably is asking Him to give us a few more minutes to play down here, no doubt. That was my own proof that she loved God and I know she is very well taken care of by Him now.
Those following weeks, months and year were full of counseling, meetings with Jim Martin and painful court dates. We learned exactly what happened to her. We learned that this horrible “juvenile” had made a list, it was called, “23 things to do to a girl in the woods.” Mr. Martin allowed us to read this list. Some of the things on there were to beat her, rape her and dress her back up, kill her and throw her in the river. Everything on that list was carried out premeditatedly and cold heartedly. This sinister plan certainly was not on the level of a “juvenile.” There are and there are going to be more offenders out there like this boy. Would this not be the kind of “JUVENILE” you would want to be in prison for life? He was 17 years old at the time, which technically makes him a juvenile. There is no difference mentally between a 17 year old and an 18 year old adult committing theses kind of crimes. He knew and planned exactly what he was going to do and he did it. This is not the kind of person we should allow to get out of prison walking the streets among your children and mine. He must pay the full price for his heinous crime. It is the only reasonable justice for taking my 12 year old daughter’s life. Our lives are forever changed, so should Brian Bahr’s life be forever changed. We will mourn forever….he should pay forever. He needs to suffer the loss of his freedom to follow his dreams, because he is the cause for the loss of our daughter Danni’s freedom, to follow her dreams.
My husband and I have learned some very important things about life from the past five and a half years. Life has taught us to be better parents, a better spouse to each other and better human beings. We have learned that life can be snatched away very quickly. The time we spend with our son and daughter is so much more precious now, we want to cherish every moment we can for no one knows what the future holds. My own personal motto is, “Never think or say, that’s not going to happen to Me.”; whether it’s good or bad. Who would have thought that our quiet little family would be forever associated with the highest profiled murder case in Allentown? A legacy we never would have chosen. But just as Brian Bahr gave Danni no choice, he gave us no choice either. You must never allow the chance that any other victims can be at the mercy of these “juveniles’ choices by setting them free because of the age that they were when they committed these crimes. I beseech YOU to make the right choice. We must be strong and clear in our message to these offenders….there IS accountability. Danni Reese Romig paid the price to have it, and we must demand it.
A few months ago this boy wrote me a letter. I didn’t ever think he would contact us. We were told he wasn’t allowed to. He apologized to our family for the pain he has caused us. I don’t really think that means a whole lot. Too little too late. You cannot just say I’m sorry. It doesn’t give us anything back. It doesn’t heal the pain.