Family, friends remember slain University student

Katherine Olson was shot Thursday after responding to a babysitting job listing on craigslist.

From a three-month nanny stint in Turkey to plans of one day becoming a college professor, Katherine Olson’s life was a series of bold decisions that took her beyond the confines of a typical 24-year-old college alumna.

Just last week, Olson’s family and friends learned of her latest decision: to forgo a career in medical interpreting.

Fueled by her love of languages and a translating job at a largely Spanish-speaking chiropractic clinic, she enrolled in an introductory course in interpreting at the University.

But Olson, a St. Olaf College alumna, found the backseat role of a medical interpreter too restricting.

“She said ‘I don’t want to be invisible,’ ” her younger brother, Karl Olson, said. “She was a theater major and it protruded into her everyday life.”

Katherine Olson’s plans were interrupted Thursday when she responded to an online job posting on craigslist.

The criminal complaint

Katherine Olson told her roommate last Thursday she planned to go to Savage in response to a babysitter listing, the criminal complaint stated.

On Friday, authorities recovered Olson’s purse from a trash can in Warren Butler Park in Savage. A further search of the garbage can turned up what appeared to be a blood-soaked towel.

Contacted by police, Olson’s roommate told an officer he was aware she had answered the listing.

He told officers he recalled Olson commenting to him that the woman she corresponded with about the job – a person calling herself “Amy” – seemed “strange.”

In tracing the phone number, physical address and e-mail address found in Olson’s exchanges with “Amy,” police were led to a Savage home where a 19-year-old man, Michael Anderson, lived with his parents.

Police tracked Anderson to his job at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport where he was questioned and detained as a suspect in a missing-persons case.

At roughly the same time, a search for Olson ended when police found her body in the trunk of her car in Burnsville’s Kramer Park.

She had been shot in the back.

A forensic search of the Anderson residence later that night turned up blood spatter and drag marks within the home and inside Anderson’s bedroom.

A Magnum handgun and a shell casing were found in Anderson’s room.

He told police the last time he used craigslist was in January 2007 and that he canceled the e-mail account used in the craigslist listing several days before the incident took place.

Anderson said his mother and up to three of his friends also had access to the account number.

He denied having any phone contact with Olson, despite information from Verizon Wireless that showed a call was placed from his phone number to hers Thursday morning.

Anderson told police he was present at the time of Olson’s death, but that another person killed her, according to the complaint.

Scott County prosecutor, Patrick Ciliberto, filed second-degree murder charges against Anderson on Tuesday. The crime carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. Bail was set at $1 million.

“She wanted to be more involved in everything”

Veronica Newington, instructor for the University’s introductory interpreting course, said Olson was a well-liked student, constantly talking to classmates during breaks.

Newington said she could tell her student was becoming more aware of aspects of the interpreter role she wasn’t interested in.

The interpreter’s role is to facilitate communication between two people, Newington said, not to participate in conversation as a third party.

“I don’t think she was attracted to that,” she said of the interpreter’s “backseat” role in the workplace. “She wanted to be more involved in everything.”

University President Bob Bruininks offered his condolences to Olson’s family and friends in an e-mail to the Daily on Tuesday.

“This senseless tragedy only magnifies the sorrow we feel at the loss of such a dynamic and engaged student,” he said. “Katherine Ann Olson was well-liked by her classmates and well-respected by faculty and staff.

“On behalf of the University community, I want to extend our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends,” Bruininks said.

“Life was a stage to her”

Nila Khan, a marketing senior, said she was in two plays with Olson during high school.

“She was so involved with everything,” she said. “Her motivation led me to get motivated.”

Sean Corcoran, a University alumnus, said he worked at the Chickadee Cottage restaurant in Woodbury with Olson.

“Life was a stage to her,” he said, adding that she invited him to plays she was in.

Corcoran said her diverse interests made her easy to get along with.

“Religion was a very big part of her life, but didn’t stop her from interacting with people who were of other faiths,” Corcoran said.

Sarah Sevcik, a Cottage Grove native and fellow St. Olaf alumna, called Katherine Olson her best friend.

She never expressed concern about craigslist, Sevcik said.

Olson found two nanny jobs – one in Turkey and one in St. Paul – through the online community that offers users free classified advertising, she said.

“She only had successful stories,” Sevcik said.

Olson met “good friends” online and one of her older sister’s best friends met her husband through craigslist, she said.

Sevcik said working in Turkey was an opportunity for Olson, who had just graduated from college, to learn about Middle Eastern culture and work with children.

“Katherine’s a great teacher,” she said, “so it was a great combination for her.”

Sevcik said Olson briefly mentioned the prospective nanny job to her as “a $13-an-hour thing.”

She said the last time she spoke to her friend was Wednesday afternoon, after Olson finished a job interview at a local law firm.

Olson planned to go to Spain in July and the law firm seemed to be understanding of her travel plans, Sevcik said. She also had aspirations of one day becoming a professor.

“Her very existence in the world drew you to her”

Cooper D’Ambrose said he graduated from Cottage Grove’s Park High School with Olson in 2002. The two were active in theater, a passion D’Ambrose is currently pursuing in New York.

D’Ambrose recalled their senior year of high school when they played the leads in their school production of “Cyrano de Bergerac.”

The play, he said, was about hidden, unrequited love. Their on- and off-stage friendship made it even more powerful, D’Ambrose said.

He was in New York when he heard of her death and wanted to come home for her visitation and funeral, despite expensive airfare, he said.

Barbara Kingsley, D’Ambrose’s mother and local actress, said she fondly remembered Olson’s presence.

“Her very existence in the world drew you to her,” she said. “She just had an amazing, funny face. She had this marvelous mass of reddish curls and freckles.”

Kingsley said she was performing in the Guthrie Theater’s production of “Jane Eyre” the night she found out about Olson’s death.

After learning of the situation, Kingsley said cast mates and crew members took up a collection and came up with the money to fly her son home, a gesture Kingsley said was reminiscent of Olson.

“That’s the kindness thing that Katherine was all about,” she said.

Kingsley said people can still learn a lot from Olson’s legacy.

“These situations are not about turning our back and hardening,” she said. “It’s about taking necessary precautions, but continuing to send forth that positive energy.

“It doesn’t stop here,” Kingsley said. “That sense of the wonderful things that made Katherine can go on, and will go on.”

-Jake Grovum contributed to this report.